Telenor Serbia buys banking licence to support mobile services push

Telenor Serbia said it plans to offer mobile financial services in Serbia after it agreed to buy the Serbian unit of Belgian banking and insurance group KBC.

"Telenor Serbia is committed to introducing advanced mobile financial services to customers in Serbia," the operator said in a statement. "Purchasing KBC Banka is a crucial step in this process, and this investment will contribute to support economic growth in Serbia and bring attractive mobile financial services to the market."

Mobile operators all over Europe have been investigating various ways of offering mobile banking and payment services, and actually buying a bank is certainly one way of overcoming some of the regulatory hurdles.

Telenor Serbia said it looked at three potential strategic options, and eventually decided to acquire a bank, "as this is a solution that best fits our strategy and enables the fastest go-to market approach". The deal is subject to approval from Serbian authorities, but "we expect to receive positive answers in the next few months," said Ove Fredheim, CEO of Telenor Serbia.

For KBC, the move represents one of the final divestments required by the European Commission. Reuters reported that Telenor will buy all of KBC Banka's shares, and so secure a banking licence, while Societe Generale Srbija will acquire KBC Banka's key assets and deposits.

Telenor remains one of Europe's best performing telecoms companies, but even it reported underwhelming first-quarter results. Bloomberg said sales during the first quarter slipped 1.6 per cent from a year earlier to around €3.2 billion, which the operator blamed on the exchange rate effects with the Norwegian krone and an earlier Easter in its domestic market.

Reuters noted that weaker sales in India and regulatory issues in Pakistan have also prompted the company to lower its full-year organic revenue growth forecast to 2-4 per cent from 3-5 per cent.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this other Reuters article
- see this release

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