Thursday, March 11, 2010

What is the implications of Mobile Operators buying banks

It was widely reported that China mobile bought a 20% stake in Shanghai Pudong Development Bank recently (Read here, here and here). Although the rationale of the investment given by China mobile was rather sketchy (talking of future synergies), much speculation erupted. Some analysts believed that this was merely a cash injection in the bank at the call of government, while others indicate that this may add to the revenue of the operator.

The key consideration may be to get access to clearing capabilities in a regulatory friendly way. One of the best examples of this having been executed successfully is the purchase of a small micro finance bank (Tameer bank) by one of the large operators in Pakistan (Telenor). The recently deployed Telenor mobile financial service (called Easypaisa) is turning out to be spectacularly successful, but also legal as it is a service launched by a bank, but distributed by a mobile operator. There are speculations in Pakistan that Telenor's biggest competitor (Mobilink - an Orascom company) is actively looking for a bank to buy (Read here). Some informed sources have told me that the purchase may even be of one of the smaller retail banks. Surely this is a ratification of a strategy where an operator would buy a bank with the primary intention of launching financial services.

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