FNB Connect sees appetite to expand partner ecosystem

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 25 Mar 2024
Sashin Sookroo, CEO of FNB Connect.
Sashin Sookroo, CEO of FNB Connect.

FNB Connect has a lot appetite to build on and foster new partnerships, CEO Sashin Sookroo revealed to ITWeb in an interview.

Launched in June 2015, FNB Connect is the bank’s mobile offering. It is available to FNB customers and allows them to choose between a range of contract and prepaid packages, smartphones and devices.

FNB Connect is a three-pillar business made up of the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), device and service provider business.

Last year June, FNB Connect signed an MVNO collaboration with MTN aimed at accelerating access to telecommunications and internet services for FNB Connect. FNB Connect had been piggybacking on Cell C since its debut.

Sookroo explained the plan is to continue to partner with some of the existing partners and deeply entrench those. However, they are also in pursuit of multiple new partnerships, to add more value to our customers.

The partnerships on FNB Connect’s radar are across the board, said Sookroo, indicating this is on the network side, fintech and device side.

“On the network side, we’re partnering with existing networks, we’re looking at potentially fintech-type companies and partnering there to expand in-app services. Our partnership strategy is focused on the value we can unlock for our customers and where it makes sense then to partner.

“We’re also partnering with the various big device brands, to get more value to our customers.”

According to Sookroo, leveraging the MTN tower infrastructure has helped increase networking quality as well as coverage, which he said has improved multi-fold. “We’re using their tower infrastructure at the moment and looking to deepen that partnership with MTN as well.”

MVNO race heats up

According to a report by local market analyst firm BMIT, the collective market share of MVNOs will double in the next two to three years and account for 10-12% of mobile subscribers in five years.

As the MVNO market in South Africa continues on a growth trajectory, Telkom last year announced plans to launch its own MVNO platform. In 2020, MTN also entered the MVNO race.

JSE-listed Huge Group announced last year that it will also make forays into the MVNO market with a new company dubbed Huge Connect. Local retail company Mr Price also has its own MVNO aptly named Mr Price Mobile.

As the first local bank to establish its MVNO, Sookroo said they welcome the growing competition in this space. “Just awareness and proliferation of brands that are coming in, from an MVNO perspective, allows debate around MVNOs.

“Years ago…customers didn’t know what an MVNO is, but now with all these brands coming in, it’s creating a lot of great attention. When more competition comes in, there is more innovation in this space and we’re considering how to up our game.

“Technologies like eSIMs make easier for customers not only to try us out, but also to switch networks. Increased competition and attention on MVNOs is definitely something that we welcome and it’s encouraging people to look and switch to FNB.”

In terms of its customer base, Sookroo noted that FNB Connect’s is doing “very well”.

“If you look at our growth, it is quite high. Our strategy is to focus on quality, so that’s getting more people on primary SIM. The base has been growing nicely and with the focus on quality, we’ve seen more people using the network.”

While he wouldn’t put a number to the FNB Connect customer base, he said it is changing quite fast, adding that the number of customers will be released to market once the bank’s results are finalised. “It’s been good growth so far.”

Democratise access

With the global smartphone market contracting consecutively for the past seven years, research firm IDC has forecast that 2024 will see the market swing back to growth, with shipments reaching 1.2 billion units, a 2.8% year-on-year increase.

Sookroo commented that Connect’s device offering has also witnessed growth. “It’s one of the places where we’ve seen the most significant growth. Post our Black Friday deals, it created significant awareness in our Connect options and deals, and we’re seeing that we’ve created a higher sales amount over the last few months.

“We’re expanding our device range, and we’re looking at making devices more affordable.

“We are also trying to democratise data access and phones. So we’re looking at bringing out a lot more affordable phones and data – more value in our packages. A key part of our strategy is narrowing this digital divide.

“It’s not just about phones and connectivity at home; it’s also about TVs, airfryers, PlayStation, Xbox and a whole host of other types of smart devices. The key part of Connect is to determine how we expand our offering to make sure that customers can find their solutions within our Connect shop.”