Reuters reports that giant utility RWE is considering selling off its UK arm npower if it cannot find a way to return the business to profitability. RWE npower has suffered a rapid loss of customers, 200 000 in the first nine months of this year, its chief financial officer told Reuters.

RWE is going through the biggest crisis in its 117-year history, contending with very low wholesale power prices, high exposure to coal and gas, and only a small presence in renewables. Its shares are trading at a 24-year low. The report of its loss of custom in the UK sent its shares down 10%.

Bernhard Guenther, RWE’s CFO since 2013, said in the interview that it would take at least until 2017 for npower to return to profit from an expected ‘mid-double-digit million euro’ loss this year.
The problems in the UK business from an investor point of view stem from the loss of customers and ‘the great risk of regulatory interference [in the British retail business]’ said Mr Guenther.

RWE npower now has 5.4 million customers in the UK but a problem with its billing process has meant it has been effectively unable to charge some customers and it does not expect the issues to be resolved until the end of 2016. The company is to try to come up with a rescue plan for the unit by next March with the aim of bringing down its losses in 2016 compared with 2015.

Npower’s billing problems were, according to Guenther, triggered by the implementation of new software that brought to light bad data quality, causing RWE to issue faulty bills or send them to the wrong people. He added that there is room to improve Npower’s profitability through other measures, perhaps by staff redundancies in a company which now has too many employees – it currently employs 7000 in the UK – for the size of its customer base and its profitability.