Digital Innovators: Q&A with Billmonitor managing director Klaus Henke

Klaus Henke
The client facing team at Billmonitor help you find the best tariff. (Source: Billmonitor)

Billmonitor is the first ever Ofcom-accredited tariff price comparison tool for consumers.

Last year Billmonitor was identified as one of 50 of the freshest and most inspiring digital companies using technology and innovation to shake up their sectors in our Digital Innovators Power List. Following a public vote and after careful consideration by supporting partners and judges, it was named as one of the top 10 Digital Innovators. Later this year two of these companies will be identified as a "life changer" or a "market transformer".

Managing director Klaus Henke tells us his long-term vision for the company and gives us insight into why it's one of the UK's leading digital innovators.

Talk me through the business. What sparked the idea? How do you compete with other players/what sets you apart?

The UK mobile phone market lacks transparency and while the big networks do offer a wide range of tariffs and bundles, they are under no obligation to advise clients on the most financially beneficial combinations.

In 2005, Stelios Koundouros teamed up with two other Oxford academics to address this by developing a sophisticated piece of software that uses maths and statistics to enable consumers to make better buying decisions about their mobile phone contracts. Our Ofcom-accredited price comparison tool for consumers then went live in 2009 followed by the expansion of our software capabilities to also service businesses and corporates in 2016.

What sets us apart is that we don’t earn any commission from the networks, so we are objective in our reporting and do not encourage unnecessary switching of providers. Our proprietary, impartial software analyses the client’s actual user data, and then compares it against millions of mobile tariff and bundle options to find the right combinations. This has led to an average saving of 46 per cent on our client’s bills across all sectors and sizes.

How has your company grown in the past few years? What are the most crucial things you have done to grow it?

The practice of needing a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) to switch networks has been one of the key sticking points in the growth of our consumer business and we have persistently lobbied Ofcom to change the system. Finally, in December 2017, Ofcom announced that the PAC process will be simplified, removing the network retention teams’ ability to interrupt the transfer process – the only snag is that all operators have 18 months to implement the change!

The regulator and government’s slow response when it comes to supporting innovation and change was partly responsible for the launch of our business service, as it gave us access to a new market segment that is less impacted by the PAC.

Where do you hope to be in a year/two years? What is your long-term vision for the business?

We hope to be a recognised provider of independent mobile tariff advisory services for businesses and consumers alike: a “Which? Mortgage Advisors” for the mobile phone industry if you will. Thereafter, we want to expand into related verticals such as fixed lines and broadband, followed by an initial expansion into Europe and then into the US market.

Once we have established a strong foothold in the telecoms industry, we’ll look to use our software’s unique flexibility and analytics to expand our bill monitoring services into unrelated verticals such utility bills, and financial products like credit cards or mortgages.

How do you see the state of the market in which your business operates? What are the biggest challenges you will face in the coming years and how do you hope to overcome them?

The UK mobile phone market continues to be highly concentrated, with the four largest players controlling approximately 91.6 per cent, according to a report from IBISWorld. This has led to a lack of market transparency and valuable, actionable information being kept away from key decision makers, resulting in suboptimal decisions and, thus, excessive mobile phone expenditures.

At the same time, the big mobile phone operators have managed to lull their clients into believing that they have secured ideal contracts. According to a 2017 Billmonitor survey, eight out of ten persons involved in their respective business’s decision-making processes believe that they have a good deal. The opposite is in fact true, with nine out of ten business clients overpaying by 85 per cent.

At Billmonitor, our biggest challenge is to raise awareness of this issue across industry and public sectors and to deliver solutions to help users realise their savings potential.

How important is innovation to your business? How do you engender a culture of forward thinking and creativity with your staff?

Innovation is hugely important to us and we aim to encourage creative thinking across the organisation in general, and within our software development team in particular. To that end, we foster an environment of supportive and open teamwork, sponsor monthly “creative days”, and actively encourage new idea generation and membership learning.

We also regularly engage with academic institutions and like-minded organisations to explore new ideas and ways to tackle the issues of awareness. For example, we have teamed up with the Oxford Consulting Initiative to give six very bright students from Oxford University the opportunity to consult Billmonitor on developing alternative business solutions for existing challenges.

What is it about your company that makes it one of the UK’s leading digital innovators?

Our desire and ability to identify innovative and independent analysis and saving solutions for consumers and businesses in a sector where not even the largest players have a comparable software tool...and our ability to persist against the odds in a market dominated by those same large players.

Look out for the next Q&A with what3words, another top 10 Digital Innovator, on 8 February 2018.

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