Helios Investment Partners LLP is in talks with African telecom operators and banks about ways the private-equity firm can help them cash in on their mobile-money and digital-payments platforms.
Africa’s largest wireless carriers, including MTN Group Ltd. and Airtel Africa Plc, are among companies exploring how to unlock value from their multi-billion dollar fintech operations. Johannesburg-based MTN is looking to finalise plans to spin off the lucrative unit by the end of March, while Airtel brought in Mastercard Inc. has a minority investor in its mobile-finance division last year.
“There is a desire to carve out these businesses, and we have been in continuous dialog with such players,” Helios Co-Founder and Managing Partner Tope Lawani said in an interview, without naming specific firms. “Companies are trying to find ways of letting these units flourish and not essentially be suffocated by the traditional parts of business.”
Helios is looking to take advantage of the booming digital-payments sector in Africa, where a youthful and tech-savvy population has increasing access to smartphones and affordable, high-speed internet. Traditional banking infrastructure is relatively scarce for a continent of about 1.4 billion people — a report by Stastica found that about a third has an account. Mobile phones enable those without to easily pay for goods and services.
The opportunity for investment firms is therefore vast, Lawani said. Helios’s experience in the African telecom market includes founding and developing mobile-mast firm Helios Towers Plc, which expanded through acquisitions across the continent and listed in London in 2019.
The investment firm is now in the process of raising a $1.25 billion fund for future deals.
Another focus for Helios is the continent’s role in the global energy transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy options. The company is raising $350 million for this purpose, Lawani said.
“We want to help Africa to navigate this quite dangerous energy transition period that we are in,” the CEO said. “I say dangerous as pro-climate policies are not designed with continents like Africa in mind, but rather with the big polluters like the US, Europe and China. We are quite keen not to see Africa miss out on another development cycle, and we want to get these investments done.”
Helios is looking for deals in South Africa, a country in the throes of a debate about a historic dependence on coal and proposals about new energy sources.
“The cleaner fuels investment opportunity is particularly interesting in South Africa, and maybe some of the work that we intend to do with the new fund will enable us to deepen and increase our footprint in the country,” Lawani said.