Category Archives: Safaricom profit

Safaricom 2018 Results, Driven by M-Pesa and Data Growth.

This morning Safaricom released their March 2018 results, reporting that they had overcome a challenging year in Kenya to post record results as their shares also touched record highs.

Kenya’s largest company reported revenue of Kshs 224.5 billion (~$2.24 billion), a 10% increase shillings an EBIT of Kshs 79.3 billion, and a net income of Kshs 55 billion ($553 million). They will pay out a Kshs 44 billion ($440 million) as dividend (Kshs 1.1 per share)  to their shareholders.

As was the case the previous year, the results were driven by innovations in data, and mobile money (M-Pesa_. Mobile data revenue was Kshs 38.4 billion (up from Kshs 29.3 billion) and data usage per customer has grown to 56% to 421 MB, with more than 90% of data consumed through bundles which offered customers better value and freedom of usage.

M-pesa revenue was Kshs 62.9 billion as customers had moved from traditional M-Pesa to payments. The company has signed over 100,000 Lipa-Na-M-Pesa merchants and customers did 147 million Lipa na M-pesa transactions, an increase of 63%. Safaricom had reduced merchant fees by 50% and also made customer transactions that were smaller than Kshs  200 ($2) free of charge. In financing, Safaricom now issued 3 (micro) loans every second through partnerships with banks – M-Shwari (CBA) and KCB’s M-Pesa. Overall, M-pesa accounted for 28% of service revenue, and mobile data was 16% reducing Safaricom’s earlier reliance on voice and SMS which together were still a significant 50% of revenue.

These results were achieved in a year that Kenya had a prolonged electioneering period which slowed economic activity while credit growth was also the slowest in 14 years. But in releasing the results, Safaricom director, and former CEO, Michael Joseph cautioned that a draft industry competition study had proposals that seriously concerned Safaricom such as the introduction of price controls and regulated infrastructure sharing. The proposals, he said, would prevent Safaricom from rolling out services that their competitors could not replicate.

The results announcement also saw a surprise reappearance (via video) of Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore who took personal leave late last year to seek medical treatment. Collymore announced that he was completing the final phases of his treatment and expected to be back in Nairobi in a  few weeks once he was cleared to travel by his doctors.

Some ongoing innovations include in food security (Digi Farm and Connected Farmer) and healthcare (M-Tiba which now has 1 million users. They recently created an agri-business department that will to seek to deliver mobile-based solutions to address food security in the country. Also, the Safaricom Foundation is refreshing its strategy to address sustainable development of communities in three areas; education, health, and economic empowerment.

Going forward, Safaricom projects EBIT of Kshs 85 – 89 billion for 2019 as they look to drive shareholder value through growing M-Pesa across borders, and appropriate partnerships and in environments with the right regulations, Also from e-commerce and they recently signed payment partnerships with PayPal and the Google. 

Regulatory hammer for Kenya telco reverses gains

Reading a version of a report (August 2017) on the telecommunication competition market study in Kenya by  Analysys Mason (AM) of London for the Communications Authority of Kenya presents some startling observations and unwieldy regulatory recommendations.

They regulatory target is the telco – Safaricom, which is the market leader in Kenya’s telecommunications and mobile money space. The reports documents areas where Safaricom is dominant as well as other telco spaces and areas where other companies like Telkom Kenya, Airtel, Wananchi, Equitel (from Equity Bank) and Multichoice (who were beyond the scope of the study) also dominate.

The AM report looks at the current state of the telecommunications sectors, but it ignores the reality of how it got to be where it is – the history of telecommunications in Kenya, strategic-decision-making, investment & management decisions, price wars, new technologies like mobile money and fibre cables etc.

Other studies have been done on the telco sector in Kenya by different agencies. In 2012 Citi did a report on Bharti Airtel (after Bharti-Airtel bought out Zain Africa in 15 countries for $10.7 billion in 2010) and at the time; It noted:

Safaricom is by far the largest operator, with a 65% market share. Bharti is a distant second with a 15% share. Safaricom’s dominance has come down from a  peak of ~80% a couple of years back as the smaller operators have become more aggressive.. while they both launched in 2000, Kencell (now Bharti) focused on the quality of network and high ARPU customers, Safaricom focused on the mass market. Also innovations like per-second billing, which Bharti took some time to introduce and M-PESA also helped  (Safaricom) cement its dominant market position and Safaricom’s stable management in contrast to Zain’s frequent management (1. Kencell 2. Celtel 3. Zain 4. Bharti) changes also helped it compete more effectively.

Kenya has other dominant players such as EABL (alcohol), BAT (cigarettes), Kengen (energy production) and Brookside (milk), but the Communications Authority (CA) is the only agency that can declare if there is a dominant telco market player.    

In the past, the CA  has pushed some changes to level the telco field such as rolling out number-portability, the ending of mobile money agent exclusivity, and the upcoming rollout of mobile money interoperability.  

But some AM report proposals are regressive such as at least five days before launching a new tariff, loyalty scheme or promotion, Safaricom should provide a justification that the proposals can be replicated by a reasonably efficient operator – AM or that Safaricom may not offer loyalty bonuses or promotions for which the qualification criteria require different levels of expenditure or usage by different subscribers in the same category – AM
The range and messaging of different Safaricom promotions like Tunukiwa, Bonga, Flex and now Platinum, is sometimes confusing but they should not be restricted from competing and innovating. Already, another investor report by Citi has already expressed concern about the impact on telcos of some of the regulatory recommendations in the AM report including that they may have effects that will be unclear, they do not foster innovation, and they may result in high prices. 

The AM report notes that there is some concern among investors in that, as Safaricom has maintained a high share of the market for many years and that recently Essar/Yu exited Kenya (2014), Orange sold out (to Helios who re-branded as Telkom-Kenya) and Bharti indicated that they may  also consider leaving Kenya, and perhaps other countries in Africa.

While appeasing investors is good, they have to contend with Safaricom and its impact on a telco regulator with targets, and to the Kenya government country as a significant taxpayer (Safaricom’s 2017 annual report cites payment of Kshs 84.3 billion in taxes and fees to the government, in addition to 35% of Kshs 57 billion dividends that was paid to shareholders)

Finally, Safaricom is a vertically-integrated company, and dominant players come and go and they evolve over time as market forces, customers, and technologies changes. The AM report notes the introduction of Pesalink, which can be seen as a reaction by the banking sector to M-Pesa, and it also cites the use of Equitel – on average, a Safaricom M-Pesa subscriber makes 6 transactions per month, whereas an Airtel Money subscriber makes 0.6 and an Orange Money subscriber makes 0.1. However, the average Equitel subscriber makes 10 transactions per month – AM. 

No one knows what the telco sector will look like in the next decade, but the consumers, not regulatory muscle, should be the decider.

Safaricom Exceeds Earnings Expectations, Powered by M-Pesa and Data

At their Nairobi headquarters today, Kenya communications company, Safaricom announced another record year with the release of the Safaricom 2017 results, which CEO Bob Collymore credited to a focus on customers, innovative products and improving operations.

The company reported revenue of Kshs 204 billion (~$2 billion), an increase of 15% from the year before, and an astounding EBITDA of Kshs 103 billion ($1 billion), up from 83 billion in 2016. M-Pesa growth was 33% to Kshs 55 billion as the number of active M-Pesa customers increased to 19 million – who do an average of 10 transactions a month. The number of customers also went up 12% to 28.1 million.

Later, their CFO said the results came even as customers enjoyed lower costs of voice calls, SMS and money payments. Under “M-Pesa” Kadogo, the company waived M-Pesa tariffs for payments below Kshs 100 ($1) in a push to drive financial inclusion and this led to an 88% growth in transactions in that band.

Chairman Nicholas Nganga said that “Sustaining this growth is key to the Board” as he announced that the contract of Bob Collymore had been extended for an additional two years. Collymore, in turn, said that at a time when several Kenyan companies were announcing job losses, Safaricom had added 500 new jobs during the year and would be adding another 270 mainly in customer care.

Going forward, Safaricom will be changing their earning outlook from projecting EBITDA to projecting EBIT (earnings before interest & taxes) – and for 2018 they project EBIT to be between Kshs 71 to 75 billion after capital expenditure of between Kshs 35 and 38 billion that will be spent in 2017/18.

Following the release of the Safaricom 2017 results, their shareholders will get a dividend of Kshs 0.97 per share, equal to 80% of the profit, is an increase of 27% from 2016 – excluding the one-time bonus dividend paid out last year. The payment will total Kshs 38.8 billion, and 35% of that goes to the Kenya government as the second largest shareholder after Vodafone.

Safaricom Success

Mr. Michael Joseph, the Safaricom CEO, gave a talk over the weekend on leadership and the successful transformation of the company from a moribund department of a dying parastatal (Telkom Kenya) to arguably Kenya’s most successful company. The Q&A session also brought out more candid answers particularly on challenges he and the company faced as well as the performance of its competitors. And since Safaricom is not (yet) a public company, this is perhaps the closest thing to an AGM of shareholders for the company until 2009.

Safaricom CEO, Michael Joseph
The Beginning
The Company started in 2000. Vodafone (40%) put in $20 million while Telkom (Government of Kenya) who were supposed to chip in with $30 million, didn’t put down any cash, giving only their dilapidated network infrastructure and 17,000 existing, and angry, customers. The company had 5 employees led by the CEO who had done a similar start-up in Hungary. However three days after the company launched its network collapsed, damaging its reputation for network quality.

Today
Safaricom’s revenue is comparable to East African Breweries and Kenya Airways. It is several times larger than its competitor, has 900 employees and 4.6 million subscribers (the company also envisions Kenya as having 16 million potential subscribers).It has invested 55 billion shillings, all internally generated, constructing its network, which now covers about 20% of the geography of the country.

Success factors
Safaricom made several key decisions early on, but was helped by the collapse of Telkom landlines and, in hindsight, some blunders by Kencell (now Celtel) which launched around the same time and which initially had a larger subscriber base in the early years. These include:

Focus on prepaid customers The company felt that in a country without a strong credit background industry, consumers would only spend what they had. Also the CEO felt that they would need these mass-market subscribers to support corporate customers who were more lucrative. Today they have 90% of the corporate market, which Kencell set out to target initially.
Billing per second for calls while Kencell billed per minute. Safaricom sacrificed about 20% to 40% revenue per call but again, it won more customers who preferred to only pay exactly for airtime they used. There was much debate about which method was superior, but ultimately Safaricom won out
Having great customer service which was free and available 24 hours a day. While customer service is only paid lip service in Kenya he felt this would be important as consumers ventured into the new mobile phone industry. Meanwhile, Kencell’s customer service was available only during working hours and was not free. The CEO knows it is difficult to get through to customer service but that’s because the company gets an average of 25,000 calls a day sometimes double. Yet 95% of these calls are simple, how-to questions (e.g. send SMS, change tariff) everyday questions, answers to which are found in phone brochures.

Marketing
Even though the company is 40% UK owned, all their products and advertisements cultivate a Kenyan image utilizing the beauty of the Kenyan landscape and Swahili words (sambaza, bamba etc.) to reinforce how Kenyan the company is.

CEO was very dismissive of Celtel (a pan- African company) advertisements whose adverts have nothing Kenyan about them and faults their marketing strategy for assuming all Africans are homogeneous. Earlier, Kencell also introduced (French) Sagem phones to Kenya, which no one had heard of while Safaricom used Motorola and Siemens as their basic phone models.

Competition
Safaricom’s average revenue per user (ARPU) is 2 X Celtel’s and has not dropped in three years even as subscribers have more than doubled, leading the CEO to conclude that most Celtel customers are primarily Safaricom customers. Even though the company has network difficulty in some places e.g. industrial area, Safaricom has never shaken the impression, wrong he feels, that Celtel has a better network or clearer calls. He also says Celtel has a very high cost structure since they have ½ the revenue but only 1/10 of operating profit before finance charges.
– The CEO is not worried about competition from CDMA wireless as long as it is in the hands of Telkom Kenya which is still a bloated giant (17,000 employees servicing 240,000 customers)
– He is also not worried about 3rd or other mobile operators, or new service providers, but accepts that they will change the industry

Financing
The first time the company took on a loan, conditions were very stringent and the loan could have been recalled e.g. if cash flow dipped. But the second time they went borrowing (12 billion for network expansion) the company was so established, they were able to dictate terms to the banks. They borrowed at 1% above the T-bill rate while also retiring old debt. He also said Kencell (Celtel) had much higher finance charges since they had borrowed and were still paying back an expensive foreign currency loan from their then parent company (Vivendi.)

Other
Peculiar Kenyan call habits: CEO denies he ever made this infamous statement attributed to him. However, he admitted he doesn’t understand why phone traffic between 8:00 p.m. & 8:40 p.m. on weeknights is four times higher than normal, even though cheaper call rates are also available on weekends and at other times during the day.
Gift of gab: The most profitable call sites in Kenya are Garissa and Mandera. Safaricom has also set up call sites to meet high demand at remote refugee outposts such as Kakuma and Dadaab. Kenyans are also high users of text messages (next to the Philippines) while Nairobi has the highest density of mobile calls in the daytime (higher than New York) partly because landlines are poor.
Social responsibility: The company spends 200 million shillings a year on corporate social responsibility projects through its foundation and its biggest sponsorship will be the 2007 Mombasa cross country ($250,000).
Recruitment: Safaricom only employs graduates, yet somehow 70% of them fail a pre-employment test the company administers. They are now recruiting overseas and the average age of employees is 24 (seems young).
Premium rate services: CEO hates these companies who run promotions that charge 20 and 50 shillings above normal Safaricom rates. He has to let some of them use his network, by law, but makes it as expensive as possible for them to do so
Bad stats: When the company launched, it found that most of the government statistics on income, expenditure, and population were, and still are, wrong as shown by the number of subscribers the company has.
Honesty and integrity are the best virtues he has learned to have on his job. This has enabled him to perform his job and shielded him from unreasonable requests/offers from politicians and business people and if there had even been a whiff of anything less, he would have been asked to compromise himself or the company.
Next CEO: He’s reluctant to retire even though he knows its inevitable. His last contract was renewed, after a long battle between forces from Central and Western Kenya who each wanted their own candidate, but were unable to agree, leaving him as the comprise candidate. He will prepare for retirement by stepping back as the face and spokesman of Safaricom slowly and we will soon see other senior managers at the company take on more public roles in the future.

Future
– CEO wants the industry measure and focus to change from ARPU to ARPU margins
– Call costs will come down and there will be more price competition (perhaps even 5/= per call) as new competitors and technology become factors down. He expects Safaricom profits to drop from next year and may have to start cutting costs to stay competitive.
– Safaricom will have a new big product by year-end, which will change our lives. The company will also add a new tariff this year

Safaricom IPO
IPO was planned to happen this year, but the Cabinet rejected the proposal until Telkom is first privatised. The reason is that Safaricom is Telkom’s only valuable asset, and they did not want to diminish Telkom’s IPO value and prospects. So the 25% sale will be in2008 and will be bigger than Kengen’s, by far, according to the CEO.