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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Personal data: Treasure or trash?

Introduction

This report analyses how the Telefónica Group is looking to reshape the digital services market so that both telcos and individuals play a greater role in the management of personal data. Today, most Internet users share large amounts of personal information with the major online platforms: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Tencent and Alibaba. In many cases, this process is implicit and somewhat opaque – the subject of the personal data isn’t fully aware of what information they have shared or how it is being used. For example, Facebook users may not be aware that the social network tracks their location and can, in some cases, trace a link between offline purchases and its online advertising.

Beyond the tactical deployment of personal data to personalise their services and advertising, the major Internet players increasingly use behavioural data captured by their services to train machine learning systems how to perform specific tasks, such as identify the subject of an image or the best response to an incoming message. Over time, the development of this kind of artificial intelligence will enable much greater levels of automation saving both consumers and companies time and money.

Like many players in the digital economy and some policymakers, Telefónica is concerned that artificial intelligence will be subject to a winner-takes-all dynamic, ultimately stifling competition and innovation. The danger is that the leading Internet platforms’ unparalleled access to behavioural data will enable them to develop the best artificial intelligence systems, giving them an unassailable advantage over newcomers to the digital economy.

This report analyses Telefónica’s response to this strategic threat, as well as examining the actions of NTT DOCOMO, another telco that has sought to break the stranglehold of the Internet platforms on personal data. Finally, it considers whether Mint, a web service that has succeeded in persuading millions of Americans to share very detailed financial information, could be a model for telco’s personal data propositions.

As well as revisiting some of the strategic themes raised in STL Partners’ 2013 digital commerce strategy report, this report builds on the analysis in three recent STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore the role of telcos in digital commerce:

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In pursuit of personal cloud services

For the best part of a decade, STL Partners has been calling for telcos to give customers greater control over their personal data. In doing so, telcos could differentiate themselves from most of the major Internet players in the eyes of both consumers and regulators. But now, the entire digital economy is moving in this direction, partly because the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies operating in the EU to give consumers more control and partly because of the outcry over the cavalier data management practices of some Internet players, particularly Facebook.

In a world in which everyone is talking about protecting personal data and privacy, is there still scope for telcos to differentiate themselves and strengthen their relationships with consumers?

In a strategy report published in October 2013, STL Partners argued that there were two major strategic opportunities for telcos in the digital commerce space:

  1. Real-time commerce enablement: The use of mobile technologies and services to optimise all aspects of commerce. For example, mobile networks can deliver precisely targeted and timely marketing and advertising to consumer’s smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
  2. Personal cloud: Act as a trusted custodian for individuals’ data and an intermediary between individuals and organisations, providing authentication services, digital lockers and other services that reduce the risk and friction in every day interactions. An early example of this kind of service is financial services web site Mint.com (profiled in this report). As personal cloud services provide personalised recommendations based on individuals’ authorised data, they could potentially engage much more deeply with consumers than the generalised decision-support services, such as Google, TripAdvisor, moneysavingexpert.com and comparethemarket.com, in widespread use today.

Back in October 2013, STL Partners saw those two opportunities as inter-related — they could be combined in a single platform. The report argued that telcos should start with mobile commerce, where they have the strongest strategic position, and then use the resulting data, customer relationships and trusted brand to expand into personal cloud services, which will require high levels of investment.

Today, telcos’ traction in mobile commerce remains limited — only a handful of telcos, such as Safaricom, Turkcell, KDDI and NTT Docomo, have really carved out a significant position in this space. Although most telcos haven’t been able or willing to follow suit, they could still pursue the personal cloud value proposition outlined in the 2013 report. For consumers, effective personal cloud services will save time and money. The ongoing popularity of web comparison and review services, such as comparethemarket.com, moneysavingexpert.com and TripAdvisor, suggests that consumers continue to turn to intermediaries to help through them cut through the “marketing noise” on the Internet. But these existing services provide limited personalisation and can’t necessarily join the dots across different aspects of an individual’s lives. For example, TripAdvisor isn’t necessarily aware that a user is a teacher and can only take a vacation during a school holiday.

STL Partners believes there is latent demand for trusted and secure online services that act primarily on behalf of individuals, providing tailored advice, information and offers. This kind of personal cloud could evolve into a kind of vendor relationship management service, using information supplied by the individual to go and source the most appropriate products and services.

The broker could analyse a combination of declared, observed and inferred data in a way that is completely transparent to the individual. This data should be used primarily to save consumers time and give them relevant information that will enrich their lives. Instead of just putting the spotlight on the best price, as comparison web sites do, personal cloud services should put the spotlight on the ‘right’ product or service for the individual.

Ideally, a mature personal cloud service will enrich consumers’ lives by enabling them to quickly discover products, services and places that are near perfect or perfect for them. Rather than having to conduct hours of research or settle for second-best, the individual should be able to use the service to find exactly the right product or service in a few minutes. For example, an entertainment service might alert you to a concert by an upcoming band that fits closely with your taste in music, while a travel site will know you like quiet, peaceful hotels with sea views and recommend places that meet that criteria.

As a personal cloud service will need to be as useful as possible to consumers, it will need to attract as many merchants and brands as possible. In 2013, STL Partners argued that telcos could do that by offering merchants and brands a low risk proposition: they will be able to register to have their products and services included in the personal cloud for free and they will only have to pay commission if the consumer actually purchases one of their products and services. In the first few years, in order to persuade merchants and brands to actually use the site the personal cloud will have to charge a very low commission and, in some cases, none at all.

Since October 2013, much has changed. But the personal cloud opportunity is still valid and some telcos continue to explore how they can get closer to consumers. One of the most prominent of these is Madrid-based Telefónica, which has operations in much of Europe and across Latin America. The next chapter outlines Telefónica’s strategy in the personal data domain.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Recommendations for telcos
  • Introduction
  • In pursuit of personal cloud services
  • Telefonica’s personal data strategy
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Backing blockchains
  • Takeaways
  • What is Telefónica actually doing?
  • The Aura personal assistant
  • Takeaways
  • Telefonica’s external bets
  • Investment in Wibson
  • Partnership with People.io
  • The Data Transparency Lab
  • Takeaways
  • Will Telefónica see financial benefits?
  • Takeaways
  • What can Telefónica learn from DOCOMO?
  • DOCOMO’s Evolving Strategy
  • Takeaways
  • Mint – a model for a telco personal data play?
  • Takeaways

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Telefónica’s tally of active users of the major apps
  • Figure 2: Telefónica’s view of digital market openness in Brazil
  • Figure 3: Investors’ valuation of Internet platforms implies long-term dominance
  • Figure 4: Key metrics for Telefónica’s four platforms
  • Figure 5: How Wibson intends to allow individuals to trade their data
  • Figure 6: Telefónica’s digital services business is growing steadily
  • Figure 7: Telefónica’s pay TV business continues to expand
  • Figure 8: DOCOMO’s Smart Life division has struggle to grow
  • Figure 9: NTT DOCOMO’s new strategy puts more emphasis on enablers
  • Figure 10: DOCOMO continues to pursue the concept of a personal assistant
  • Figure 11: DOCOMO is using personal data to enable new financial services
  • Figure 12: Mint provides users with advice on how to manage their money
  • Figure 13: Intuit sees Mint as a strategically important engagement tool

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