MTN Group thrives on mobile data, financial services

MTN Group cashed in on its strong position in growth markets in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) with healthy gains in net profit, subscriber numbers, and revenue in 2013.

The South Africa-based company increased net profit from 24 billion rand (€1.6 billion/$2.2 billion) in 2012 to 30.4 billion rand in 2013, as revenue grew by 12 per cent year-on-year to 136 billion rand despite higher operating costs in 2013. MTN's home market and Syria were the only countries where revenues fell year-on-year.

Voice remained the operator's top revenue generator, accounting for 75.5 per cent of total sales in 2013. However, MTN noted the proportion of voice revenues fell 1.8 percentage points year-on-year due to lower mobile termination rates in 2013. Data revenues became the company's top driver of sales growth, as MTN expanded its 3G networks through 2013.

The growing availability of 3G played a part in the rising data revenues. The number of data subscribers grew to 80.6 million across all markets--or 37.4 per cent of MTN's total subscriber base--by end 2013. The number of customers equipped with a smartphone grew 59 per cent year-on-year to 34.8 million.

In a statement, MTN management said the company will "continue to explore opportunities to expand our product offering outside of traditional voice and expect to increase our presence in the digital space by leveraging technology and maximising the opportunity of low internet penetration in our markets."

Overall subscriber numbers grew 9.8 per cent year-on-year, to 207.8 million.

MTN pledged to focus on overcoming regulatory and operational challenges that resulted in slower than expected growth in the number of active mobile money and financial services customers. MTN Mobile Money subscribers grew 57.3 per cent year-on-year to 14.8 million.

Mobile money services have enjoyed greater success in emerging markets than developed markets, because fewer people in emerging territories have access to traditional banking and financial services.

MTN's statement revealed the company "introduced numerous financial products such as various short-term insurance offerings, ATM withdrawals and remote payments for airline tickets", in 2013, as management seeks to increase "the volume of transactions through expanding our product range".

The operator's earnings beat the average forecast by analysts polled by Bloomberg, and lifted its share price in early trading in Johannesburg.

For more:
- see MTN's earnings release [PDF]
- see this Bloomberg article

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