Customer Interest in Prepay Energy at an All-Time High

Americans Struggling to Pay Utility Bills Want More Options to Stay Current and Pay Down Any Debt
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 11:54 AM CDT

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- DEFG, a research and advisory firm focused on customer strategy and experience in the utility sector (, released today the findings from DEFG's annual customer survey on prepay energy and customer payment preferences in the utility sector. The survey was conducted in September 2021 with 1,000+ customers nationwide.

The old 30-day billing cycle, paper bills stuck in the mail, and haggling over payment arrangements simply don't work.

"A lot of Americans are still struggling to pay their utility bill and any debt owed to their utility that accrued during the pandemic," stated Jamie Wimberly, CEO of DEFG. "Prepay energy gives customers a sense of control and convenience. What is surprising though is how much customer interest in prepay energy has spiked over the past year. Half of the customers surveyed now indicate some level of interest in prepay energy, with a third of the respondents saying that they were either extremely or very interested in prepay energy."

Top Line Findings:  Customer Needs and Interest Aligned with Prepay Customer Segments

  • One in five Americans surveyed either paid only a partial amount or didn't pay their utility bills during the pandemic
  • Even with assistance, a quarter of Americans are past due on utility bills
  • Strong correlation between customers who are struggling to pay utility bills and prepay segments, especially younger customers, minorities and low-income customers
  • A third of the customers surveyed are very concerned (top 2 boxes) about being able to pay utility bills over the next 6 months; therefore, we estimate it will take 2+ years to work through all of the customer challenges and debt
  • One in three customers reported receiving some type of assistance; and of those, two-thirds used that assistance to help pay utility bills. Utilities should be active supporters of all types of customer assistance and not just energy assistance.

Top Line Findings:  Customer Interest in Prepay Energy at an All-Time High

  • Over 40 percent of Americans have used some type of prepay option and are very satisfied.
  • Customer interest in a voluntary prepay energy option offered by their local utility is at all-time high. 50 percent of respondents indicated some level of interest, with 18 percent being extremely interested and 15 percent being very interested. The addressable prepay market is now at 33 percent.
  • Customer interest in prepay energy jumped up by 25 percent from our last annual survey.
  • There is even greater customer interest in prepay energy aligned with the prepay segments. Almost half of younger Americans (18 – 34) were either extremely or very interested.
  • Customers are seeking alternatives to traditional payment arrangements.
  • Connected to prepay energy, customer interest has also increased sharply for other payment channels and features, such as bar code, pay-by-day, and text-to-pay.

"Utilities and their regulators need to realize a growing number of customers are actively seeking new payment options and ways to pay down debt from their utility," stated Jamie Wimberly. "The old 30-day billing cycle, paper bills stuck in the mail, and haggling over payment arrangements simply don't work for many younger Americans, minorities and low-income customers.  Prepay energy needs to be offered as a voluntary payment option."

DEFG is a research and advisory firm in the utility sector focused on customer strategy and experience. DEFG runs the Prepay Energy Working Group (PEWG) and has been at the forefront of bringing new payment options and debt management to better serve customers in the utility sector.

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