MTN values mobile-money arm at about R75bn, says CEO

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – MTN is valuing its mobile-money arm at about $5bn, joining African wireless carriers planning to list these businesses in a region that has more mobile-money accounts than anywhere else in the world.

MTN’s valuation of its unit follows Mastercard and TPG Holdings LP investing $300m in Airtel Africa’s mobile-money business at a $2.65bn value.

“With similar valuations to that of Airtel, our valuation would sit at R75bn, or about $5bn,” said MTN Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita. “No decision has been made as yet, but listing will be an option considered if that will be the best approach to unlock value.”

Johannesburg-listed MTN has previously said it was looking to spin off its fintech business.

Mobile money, where users store and manage cash in an account linked to a mobile phone, is one of the fastest-growing sources of income for wireless network operators like MTN and Vodafone Group. Sub-Saharan Africa, which struggles with limited banking infrastructure, has more mobile-money accounts than anywhere else in the world, with about 548 million at the end of 2020, or 54% of all customers, according to the GSMA, the global mobile-operator industry group.

Part-owned by a unit of Vodafone Plc, Safaricom is the largest mobile-money provider in the region with 27 million people that use M-pesa as a mobile bank — buying groceries, borrowing money, and transferring cash.

While the region now boasts $490 billion in transaction values, according to GSMA, there’s still a lot of untapped potential, with two of its most populous regions – Nigeria and Ethiopia – yet to roll out of the service.

South Africa’s MTN and its counterpart Safaricom are planning to bid for an Ethiopian operating license, although it’s uncertain that mobile-money services could be rolled out with the initial licenses in the country.

Similarly, Nigeria has been a laggard in rolling out mobile-money services, providing some provisional licenses. Last week, banks in Nigeria cut off MTN from payment platforms during a negotiation process where the mobile operator wanted to lower commissions costs on transactions.

MTN’s valuation was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

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