MTN aims to shrug off Nigeria woes and is set to launch a mobile banking product as it seeks to increase its dominant position on the continent. Photo: Bloomberg

JOHANNESBURG – MTN, Africa’s biggest telecoms operator, is determined to shrug off its woes in Nigeria and is set to launch a mobile banking product in the country as it seeks to increase its dominant position on the continent.

The group yesterday used the AfricaCom gathering, which brought together the telecoms industry’s head honchos, to announce its plans to apply for a mobile banking licence in Nigeria.

MTN chief executive Rob Shuter, who cut a confident figure, said the group saw a lot of opportunities in Nigeria and on the continent.

“We will be applying for a payment service banking licence in Nigeria in the next month or so, and if all goes according to plan, we will also be launching Mobile Money in Nigeria, probably around the second quarter of 2019,” Shuter said.

The company also plans to relaunch Mobile Money in South Africa early next year.

Kenya’s Safaricom, 35 percent owned by Vodacom, has enjoyed success in mobile money East Africa. Its success has convinced investors in the telecommunications industry that financial services is the next growth area for telecoms to offset falling voice revenues.

MTN’s plans to expand its offering in Nigeria in the midst of the group’s battle with Nigerian authorities to settle the more than $10 billion (R143.83bn) bill the country's central bank (CBN) and attorney-general is demanding from the company.  

The SA Reserve Bank (Sarb) warned last week that MTN’s troubles in Nigeria were a threat to the country's financial system. 

Sarb said in its financial stability review that if MTN was forced to pay the CBN fine, the group might struggle to pay off its debt, thereby heightening risk to the country's financial system.

In another vote of confidence in the continent, MTN also announced a partnership to launch the world's first 3G smart feature phone in Africa.  

The group, which has more than 220 million subscribers’ across its markets, has joined hands with Chinese state-owned telecoms giant China Mobile, KaiOS Technologies and Uinsoc to develop the phone.  

The companies said the new product would enable customers to upgrade from a feature phone with only voice and text capabilities, to a fully connected handset with fast 3G internet and counter the low smartphone penetration on the continent. 

MTN said the new offering would retail for between $20 to $25 and would also be available in South Africa.

Li Huidi, the executive vice-president of China Mobile, said the company would provide customised integrated device solutions to MTN.