Forging ahead in mobile financial services and digital entertainment

As consumers embrace increasingly digital lifestyles in the region, customer expectations have evolved. International Group CEO Arthur Lang talks about the Group’s focus on technology, content and innovation, and strategic partnerships to gain a stronger competitive edge.

Singtel’s regional associates continue to face intense competition amid other challenges. Where are the bright spots?

Arthur: 2019 was a bumpy year but our associates held their ground in a highly competitive landscape. Airtel in particular gained market share and recorded four straight quarters of growth in its mobile business. The industry-wide price recovery is encouraging and points to a possible market turnaround. Despite the unexpected regulatory decisions in India, we believe Airtel is in a good position to ride the upturn, with a stronger balance sheet from over US$7 billion in fresh funds raised last year, a healthier industry structure and the positive trajectory of its mobile business.

Airtel Africa also saw positive momentum which topped off a strong year with two milestone achievements: crossing the 100 million subscriber mark and a successful dual listing. AIS, Globe and Telkomsel delivered solid growth numbers across service and data revenue year-on-year.

Our associates have been focused on strengthening their core business offerings and positioning for future growth. They collectively invested over S$8 billion in network improvements to ensure faster, seamless connections for our growing customer base. Last year, Globe became the first operator in Southeast Asia to launch 5G fixed wireless home broadband while AIS also achieved a first in Thailand when it launched 5G in March 2020.

These investments in networks and digital innovation are even more important now that many of us are adapting to a new way of life due to COVID-19. The speed of digital adoption since the outbreak has solidified our role in helping consumers and businesses stay connected. We’ve been supporting customers with the digital services and connectivity crucial to their day-to-day tasks such as data top-ups, mobile remittances and collaboration tools to make working from home easier.

We’re committed to working closely with our associates to grow their digital and enterprise businesses, leveraging their leading market positions as well as the Group’s scale and operating experience.

It has been an eventful year for Dash and VIA with new offerings and partnerships. What can we expect to see next?

Arthur: It’s exciting to see Dash grow from strength to strength and reach over a million registered users. Our goal is for Dash to become an integral part of our customers’ lives, whether it’s paying for hawker food or commuting, remitting money or insurance. We’re planning to expand Dash’s offerings to include more services in insurance and cash management.

We will continue to grow VIA, our cross-border mobile payment alliance. In this digital economy, scale is really what counts, and partnerships are key to achieving this scale. We’re pleased to have welcomed two leading players, OCBC Bank and Thailand’s KASIKORNBANK, to the alliance. We look forward to more partners joining in the near future, and we expect VIA to reach some 50 million consumers and 2 million merchants across Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan this year.

Singtel and Grab have teamed up to bid for a digital banking licence in Singapore. Why is Singtel interested in exploring this new venture?

Arthur: We believe digital banking would be a natural extension of the mobile financial services we already offer. With Grab, we have complementary ecosystems and combined synergies in digital, fintech know-how and customer insights, which would enable us to present a new, digital-first model of banking based on simplicity and affordability. There is an opportunity here to serve many other consumers and small businesses underserved in Singapore, and we are excited about the possibility of winning one of the first digital bank licences in Singapore to better meet these needs.

In Southeast Asia, the majority of the adult population is underbanked or unbanked but mobile adoption is high. We believe fintech can make the difference, and we hope to continue driving innovation and financial inclusion across our regional footprint, just as we’re doing with Dash and VIA.

Beyond financial services, you also have plans to grow your digital entertainment businesses. What are some of the recent initiatives?

Arthur: We’ve been stepping up our gaming and esports initiatives with our associates as part of our strategy to grow digital content for millennials and Gen Zs across the region. We see great potential in Southeast Asia where over 200 million are gamers. With PVP Esports, we hope to develop a vibrant and healthy gaming community, uniting gamers over their passion and providing opportunities to level up their play.

We’ve also recently joined hands with South Korea’s SK Telecom and AIS for a regional joint venture. This exciting strategic investment will see us partner leading international game developers and leverage our partners’ wealth of knowledge in esports and gaming and their strong entertainment content offering to engage gamers across the Asia Pacific. We welcome more strategic partners and potential investors to join us as we build something truly unique for Asia’s gaming industry.