Why Etisalat pulled out of Nigeria
Abu Dhabi’s Etisalat has terminated its management agreement with its Nigerian arm and given the business time to phase out the brand in Nigeria, the chief executive of Etisalat International told Reuters on Monday.
The UAE telecom giant did not give reasons why it is pulling out of Nigeria except for the upheaval that routed the Nigerian partner which was embroiled in a mesh of debt but insider sources said the UAE investors were angry with Nigerians who managed the controversial loan that brought Etisalat Nigeria to its knees.
Top cats at the UAE company were said to have been angered by the not-so-tidy manner the management of Etisalat in Nigeria utilized the loans. Their argument tallies with the fears among the consortium of creditor banks who are calling for a probe by the nation’s anti-graft agency to determine how the loan was deployed.
Nigerian regulators intervened last week to save Etisalat Nigeria from collapse after talks with its lenders to renegotiate a $1.2 billion loan failed.
All UAE shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria have exited the company and have left the board and management, Hatem Dowidar said in an interview.
He said discussions were ongoing with Etisalat Nigeria to provide technical support, adding that it can use the brand for another three-weeks before phasing it out.
Meanwhile Etisalat ETEL.AD, which saw $1.8 billion moved over its network last year via money transfers, has sought regulatory approval to expand its financial services offerings in the Gulf region, home to millions of expatriates.
Mobile money services allow customers to pay bills or make remittances using SMS text messages, often at a cheaper cost than through banks or money transfer firms.
“Remittances are a huge business opportunity,” George Held, director of products and services at Etisalat, told Reuters.
“The cost base for telecoms operators is much different than for banks and exchange houses. We do not need bricks and mortar branches, so our costs are lower and we can pass on this saving and offer better exchange rates and transaction fees.”
The former monopoly was expected to focus on its home market and Saudi Arabia. Both countries have large expat populations and inbound annual remittances were worth about $36 billion combined in 2010, Held said.
About 89 percent of the UAE’s 8.3 million population are expatriates, while in Saudi Arabia just over a fifth of the 27 million population are foreigners.
Etisalat’s Egypt unit could also profit from an estimated $8 billion of inbound remittances from Egyptians working abroad.
Etisalat has tied up with Western Union (WU.N) and MoneyGram International MGI.N to allow money sent by mobile customers in the Middle East to be collected anywhere in the world.
Aside from remittances, the operator hopes to offer salary payments, peer-to-peer domestic funds transfers and utility and shop payments.
“Remittances will be an extremely important part of our mobile money services. But it is not enough alone to drive service adoption, so we will offer a mix of services to make it very hard for customers not to get involved,” said Held.
Etisalat already offers some of these services in six countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tanzania and plans to expand this to the 17 countries in which it operates in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“We want to introduce mobile money in the rest of our markets as soon as possible. It is not a technical issue, but ticking all the boxes from a regulatory, compliance and customer education point of view,” Held said.