Are telcos smart enough to make money work?

Telco consumer financial services propositions

Telcos face a perplexing challenge in consumer markets. On the one hand, telcos’ standing with consumers has improved through the COVID-19 pandemic, and demand for connectivity is strong and continues to grow. On the other hand, most consumers are not spending more money with telcos because operators have yet to create compelling new propositions that they can charge more for. In the broadest sense, telcos need to (and can in our view) create more value for consumers and society more generally.

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As discussed in our previous research, we believe the world is now entering a “Coordination Age” in which multiple stakeholders will work together to maximize the potential of the planet’s natural and human resources. New technologies – 5G, analytics, AI, automation, cloud – are making it feasible to coordinate and optimise the allocation of resources in real-time. As providers of connectivity that generates vast amounts of relevant data, telcos can play an important role in enabling this coordination. Although some operators have found it difficult to expand beyond connectivity, the opportunity still exists and may actually be expanding.

In this report, we consider how telcos can support more efficient allocation of capital by playing in the financial services sector.  Financial services (banking) sits in a “sweet spot” for operators: economies of scale are available at a national level, connected technology can change the industry.

Financial Services in the Telecoms sweet spot

financial services

Source STL Partners

The financial services industry is undergoing major disruption brought about by a combination of digitisation and liberalisation – new legislation, such as the EU’s Payment Services Directive, is making it easier for new players to enter the banking market. And there is more disruption to come with the advent of digital currencies – China and the EU have both indicated that they will launch digital currencies, while the U.S. is mulling going down the same route.

A digital currency is intended to be a digital version of cash that is underpinned directly by the country’s central bank. Rather than owning notes or coins, you would own a deposit directly with the central bank. The idea is that a digital currency, in an increasingly cash-free society, would help ensure financial stability by enabling people to store at least some of their money with a trusted official platform, rather than a company or bank that might go bust. A digital currency could also make it easier to bring unbanked citizens (the majority of the world’s population) into the financial system, as central banks could issue digital currencies directly to individuals without them needing to have a commercial bank account. Telcos (and other online service providers) could help consumers to hold digital currency directly with a central bank.

Although the financial services industry has already experienced major upheaval, there is much more to come. “There’s no question that digital currencies and the underlying technology have the potential to drive the next wave in financial services,” Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal told investors in February 2021. “I think those technologies can help solve some of the fundamental problems of the system. The fact that there’s this huge prevalence and cost of cash, that there’s lack of access for so many parts of the population into the system, that there’s limited liquidity, there’s high friction in commerce and payments.”

In light of this ongoing disruption, this report reviews the efforts of various operators, such as Orange, Telefónica and Turkcell, to expand into consumer financial services, notably the provision of loans and insurance. A close analysis of their various initiatives offers pointers to the success criteria in this market, while also highlighting some of the potential pitfalls to avoid.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Potential business models
    • Who are you serving?
    • What are you doing for the people you serve?
    • M-Pesa – a springboard into an array of services
    • Docomo demonstrates what can be done
    • But the competition is fierce
  • Applying AI to lending and insurance
    • Analysing hundreds of data points
    • Upstart – one of the frontrunners in automated lending
    • Takeaways
  • From payments to financial portal
    • Takeaways
  • Turkcell goes broad and deep
    • Paycell has a foothold
    • Consumer finance takes a hit
    • Regulation moving in the right direction
    • Turkcell’s broader expansion plans
    • Takeaways
  • Telefónica targets quick loans
    • Growing competition
    • Elsewhere in Latin America
    • Takeaways
  • Momentum builds for Orange
    • The cost of Orange Bank
    • Takeaways
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Index

This report builds on earlier STL Partners research, including:

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DataSpark: Lessons on building a new telco (data) business

Data analytics as a new business

This case study looks at DataSpark, an autonomous business unit of Singtel (www.dsanalytics.com) and evaluates the benefits of creating a separate organisational structure within a telco to provide technology and support for the development of analytics, AI and automation as a new business. It is created after conversations with Shaowei Ying, Chief Operating Officer of DataSpark. The company’s activities include both the creation of internal capabilities and data monetisation capabilities for external customers.

DataSpark was formed in 2014 at a time when not many telcos were actively exploring new data business opportunities. The unit consisted of a small group of data professionals with skills around, particularly, location data. Singtel’s CEO was a strong supporter of leveraging telco data to establish competitive differentiation and therefore tasked them with looking at various location-related external monetisation opportunities. It was considered natural to create internal use cases for the data to defray the cost of the data preparation. In particular, the same mobility intelligence was of use to radio network planners optimising their network roll out using not just congestion, but now subscribers’ mobility patterns, too.

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DataSpark’s progress to date

Telcos’ external monetisation units, such as DataSpark, are not yet large enough to split out the revenues in their reports and accounts. However, in the 2018 and 2019 Management Discussion and Analysis DataSpark’s progress was reported to include:

  • Activity to bring mobility data to sectors such as transport and out-of-home media in Singapore and Australia
  • Partnership in out-of-home advertising with large players taking a data-as-a-service solution to optimise their assets
  • Provision of insights including first party enterprise data in the consumer goods sector to deliver new use cases in advertising and retail store inventory optimisation
  • Recent support for governments in predicting spread of Covid-19, including understanding the socio-economic impact of the virus.

Service example: COVID-19 insight for the Australian local government

COVID-19 data analytics innovation

Source: DataSpark

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Two diverging strategies for a small, independent data unit
    • Scaling up the data business as an integrated unit
  • Introduction
    • DataSpark’s progress to date
  • DataSpark’s approach to building a data unit
    • What services does it offer?
    • Go-to-market: Different approaches for internal and external customers
    • Organisational structure: Where should a data unit go?
  • How to scale a data business?
    • The immediate growth opportunities
    • Following in others’ footsteps
    • Building new capabilities for external monetisation
  • Assessing future strategies for DataSpark
    • Scenario 1: Double down on internal data applications
    • Scenario 2: Continue building an independent business

 

Read more about STL Partners’ AI & automation research at stlpartners.com/ai-analytics-research/

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Consumer strategy: What should telcos do?

Globally, telcos are pursuing a wide variety of strategies in the consumer market, ranging from broad competition with the major Internet platforms to a narrow focus on delivering connectivity.

Some telcos, such as Orange France, Telefónica Spain, Reliance Jio and Rakuten Mobile, are combining connectivity with an array of services, such as messaging, entertainment, smart home, financial services and digital health propositions. Others, such as Three UK, focus almost entirely on delivering connectivity, while many sit somewhere in between, targeting a single vertical market, in addition to connectivity. AT&T is entertainment-orientated, while Safaricom is financial services-focused.

This report analyses the consumer strategies of the leading telcos in the UK and the Brazil – two very different markets. Whereas the UK is a densely populated, English-speaking country, Brazil has a highly-dispersed population that speaks Portuguese, making the barriers to entry higher for multinational telecoms and content companies.

By examining these two telecoms markets in detail, this report will consider which of these strategies is working, looking, in particular, at whether a halfway-house approach can be successful, given the economies of scope available to companies, such as Amazon and Google, that offer consumers a broad range of digital services. It also considers whether telcos need to be vertically-integrated in the consumer market to be successful. Or can they rely heavily on partnerships with third-parties? Do they need their own distinctive service layer developed in-house?

In light of the behavourial changes brought about by the pandemic, the report also considers whether telcos should be revamping their consumer propositions so that they are more focused on the provision of ultra-reliable connectivity, so people can be sure to work from home productively. Is residential connectivity really a commodity or can telcos now charge a premium for services that ensure a home office is reliably and securely connected throughout the day?

A future STL Partners report will explore telcos’ new working from home propositions in further detail.

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The UK market: Convergence is king

The UK is one of the most developed and competitive telecoms markets in the world. It has a high population density, with 84% of its 66 million people living in urban areas, according to the CIA Factbook. There are almost 272 people for every square kilometre, compared with an average of 103 across Europe. For every 100 people, there are 48 fixed lines and 41 broadband connections, while the vast majority of adults have a mobile phone. GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 48,710, compared with US$ 65,118 in the US (according to the World Bank).

The strength of the state-funded public service broadcaster, the BBC, has made it harder for private sector players to make money in the content market. The BBC delivers a large amount of high-quality advertising-free content to anyone in the UK who pays the annual license fee, which is compulsory to watch television.

In the UK, the leading telcos have mostly eschewed expansion into the broader digital services market. That reflects the strong position of the leading global Internet platforms in the UK, as well as the quality of free-to-air television, and the highly competitive nature of the UK telecoms market – UK operators have relatively low margins, giving them little leeway to invest in the development of other digital services.

Figure 1 summarises where the five main network operators (and broadband/TV provider Sky) are positioned on a matrix mapping degree of vertical integration against the breadth of the proposition.

Most UK telcos have focused on the provision of connectivity

UK telco B2C strategies

Source: STL Partners

Brazil: Land of new opportunities

Almost as large as the US, Brazil has a population density is just 25 people per square kilometre – one tenth of the total UK average population density. Although 87% of Brazil’s 212 million people live in urban areas, according to the CIA Fact book, that means almost 28 million people are spread across the country’s rural communities.

By European standards, Brazil’s fixed-line infrastructure is relatively sparse. For every 100 people, Brazil has 16 fixed lines, 15 fixed broadband connections and 99 mobile connections. Its GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 15,259 – about one third of that in the UK. About 70% of adults had a bank account in 2017, according to the latest World Bank data. However, only 58% of the adult population were actively using the account.

A vast middle-income country, Brazil has a very different telecoms market to that of the UK. In particular, network coverage and quality continue to be important purchasing criteria for consumers in many parts of the country. As a result, Oi, one of the four main network operators, became uncompetitive and entered a bankruptcy restructuring process in 2016. It is now hoping to to sell its sub-scale mobile unit for at least 15 billion reais (US$ 2.8 billion) to refocus the company on its fibre network. The other three major telcos, Vivo (part of Telefónica), Claro (part of América Móvil) and TIM Brazil, have made a joint bid to buy its mobile assets.

For this trio, opportunities may be opening up. They could, for example, play a key role in making financial services available across Brazil’s sprawling landmass, much of which is still served by inadequate road and rail infrastructure. If they can help Brazil’s increasingly cash-strapped consumers to save time and money, they will likely prosper. Even before COVID-19 struck, Brazil was struggling with the fall-out from an early economic crisis.

At the same time, Brazil’s home entertainment market is in a major state of flux. Demand for pay television, in particular, is falling away, as consumers seek out cheaper Internet-based streaming options.

All of Brazil’s major telcos are building a broad consumer play

Brazil telco consumer market strategy overview

Source: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • The UK market: Convergence is king
    • BT: Trying to be broad and deep
    • Virgin Media: An aggregation play
    • O2 UK: Changing course again
    • Vodafone: A belated convergence play
    • Three UK: Small and focused
    • Takeaways from the UK market: Triple play gridlock
  • Brazil: Land of new opportunities
    • The Brazilian mobile market
    • The Brazilian fixed-line market
    • The Brazilian pay TV market
    • The travails of Oi
    • Vivo: Playing catch-up in fibre
    • Telefónica’s financial performance
    • América Móvil goes broad in Brazil
    • TIM: Small, but perfectly formed?
    • Takeaways from the Brazilian market: A potentially treacherous transition
  • Index

Will a big bet on banking pay for Orange – and other telcos?

Introduction

This report analyses Orange’s launch of Orange Bank at the end of 2017, examining the strategy behind the new services, considering why Orange decided to launch a bank independently and exploring the ways in which the business model could be relevant to other telcos.

In examining the business case, the report looks at what Orange learnt from its previous mobile money initiatives, what its long-term strategy is, why it chose to launch a new banking service and how it was aided or impeded by regulatory changes in the industry.

The report is structured into the following sections:

  • The first part of the report outlines consumer behaviour changes and regulatory intervention in the payments industry. This explains why the current climate is aiding the launch of new mobile banking services by telcos and other innovative players.
  • The second section considers the strength of the banks’ position in the consumer payments market, and how leveraging customer data and digital services can provide opportunities in this area, with a particular focus on telcos.
  • The third and final section examines the Orange Bank proposition in detail, mobile money strategies from operators in developed and developing markets, and how Orange’s approach can inform similar telco strategies, while also suggesting ways for telcos to differentiate themselves from the competition.

How consumer financial services is changing

Smartphones drive fintech adoption

Digital financial services, part of the broader fintech trend[1], have been gaining traction among consumers for some time. By some measures, about one quarter[2] of the global population are already using some kind of fintech innovation, while fintech start-ups have secured $45 billion in funding since 2015.

In France, for example, 793.4 million online banking payments were made last year, according to the European Central Bank, an increase from 586.2 million in 2014. Ernst & Young (EY) predicts the number of customers going online to open an account in France will surge nearly six-fold to 17 million in the next ten years. In addition, there has been an increase in bank licences being issued to non-traditional banks in international markets. In the UK, for example, there has been a steady influx of licences issued since the financial regulators relaxed rules for new entrants in 2013, according to the Bank of England. Overall, there has been a shift in industry perspectives about the feasibility of launching new banking products and competing with the incumbents.

Fintech providers are benefitting from the global adoption of smartphones, which is growing at an extraordinary pace: today there are about 4 billion smartphone connections, nearly double the figure of three years ago[3]. As consumers are increasingly using smartphones for many aspects of their lives, brands, tech companies and whole industries are finding they are required to innovate to stay relevant, and banking is no exception to this rule. In many cases, incumbent financial services players have been slow to adapt to the rise of the smartphones, opening up an opportunity for newer, more agile players, such as challenger banks or mobile operators wielding new technologies and innovative banking concepts.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Technology and regulation rock banking
  • Recommendations and takeaways
  • Introduction
  • How consumer financial services is changing
  • Smartphones drive fintech adoption
  • New regulation to shake up payments industry
  • Banks under pressure to innovate
  • Orange Bank, a mobile-first proposition
  • Incumbents’ response to Orange Bank
  • Telcos’ track record in financial services
  • The developing world
  • The developed world
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Orange Bank looks promising
  • Telcos have multiple options in the banking market
  • Recommendations and takeaways

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Orange Bank provides customers with a breakdown of their spending
  • Figure 2: Orange Bank is clearly differentiated from existing banking services
  • Figure 3: Many reviews of the Orange Bank App are critical
  • Figure 4: The global mobile money industry is still expanding quickly

[1] Fintech is defined by STL Partners as “technology that improves and disrupts financial services”, as outlined in Fintech: Definition and Landscape Overview, June 2016

[2] Frost & Sullivan, AI and Big Data Technologies Transforming Financial Services, September 2017

[3] GSMA Intelligence, 2017

Understanding Fintech: Why Interest and Investment Has Exploded

Introduction

Why should telcos care about fintech? Telecoms operators have long been interested in financial services, especially consumer-facing financial services. STL Partners has discussed the relationship between telecoms and financial services in a range of prior reports, from Digital Commerce: Show Me the (Mobile) Money, to Apple Pay and Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call, and from Telco-driven Disruption: What NTT DoCoMo, KT, and Globe Got Right, to Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Companies.

It is fair to say that telcos have found only mixed success in financial services. While certain operators have had great success in recent years providing mobile money services, there have also been many examples of telco incursions into financial services that have not paid off. On the other hand, there have been many instances of successful disruption in financial services – even technology-led digital disruption. PayPal is the foremost example of a digital business that originally found a niche doing something that banks had made quite laborious – online payments for goods between private individuals – and making it easier. But these disruptions have, to date, been limited and individual. Why, then, should telcos pay attention now?

In the last two years, the wider landscape of financial services has begun to change, as the established players have faced disruption on multiple fronts from a large number of new businesses. This has become known as fintech, and interest and investment are taking off:

Figure 1: Google Trends search on ‘fintech’, 2011 – 2016

Source: Google Trends

Fintech therefore represents a potentially huge shift in the status quo in financial services: this short report provides an overview of this shift. STL Partners will follow up with a report that considers options for telecoms operators, and makes some strategic recommendations.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Disrupting the Financial Services Industry
  • Defining fintech
  • Why fintech’s time has come
  • The state of the ecosystem: investment is accelerating
  • Key Capabilities and Service Areas
  • Fintech specific capabilities: doing the same, but differently
  • Fintech service areas: Diverse and developing
  • The Future of Fintech
  • Growth ahead
  • …but there are uncertainties around the future evolution
  • The uncertainties could still play out well for start-ups
  • Conclusion and Outlook

 

  • Figure 1: Google Trends search on ‘fintech’, 2011 – 2016
  • Figure 2: Fintech companies are disrupting financial services
  • Figure 3: Global Investment in Fintech
  • Figure 4: VC-backed Investment in Fintech, by Region
  • Figure 5: A framework for understanding fintech
  • Figure 6: Fintech start-ups within each service area