Lunga Siyo, CEO of Telkom Business. Picture: Supplied
Lunga Siyo, CEO of Telkom Business. Picture: Supplied

Lunga Siyo is the executive tasked with turning Telkom’s Yellow Pages into an e-commerce platform as part of the group’s efforts to expand into fintech.

Telkom has, for the past decade, dedicated resources to changing its business into a modern mobile network operator beyond its fixed-line business. And it recognises the opportunity to increase revenues from financial services.

While other mobile operators have focused mainly on mobile payments, Telkom has decided to remake its 70-year-old Yellow Pages unit into an online marketplace called Yep! The process is overseen by Siyo.

As voice revenues fall and margins shrink in mobile data services, mobile operators such as Vodacom and MTN have also been on a mission to grow new lines of business.

Despite being SA’s fastest-growing mobile operator, having surpassed Cell C to become the No 3 player last year, Telkom needs to diversify. It also has to offset the continued fall in its legacy copper line business.

"So far, so good," Siyo tells the FM, detailing the progress in turning his unit into a hub for Telkom’s fintech products and services.

Telkom Business had previously served the group’s enterprise clients. This changed when it bought infotech firm BCX in 2014 and decided that BCX worked best servicing large corporate clients. As a result, Telkom Business has taken on about 26,000 clients from BCX, leaving the infotech unit with about 4,000 — not counting the 500,000 businesses registered on Yellow Pages.

"We’ve been able to establish Telkom Business as a unit focused solely on serving small businesses," Siyo says. "We understand customers better, we’ve segmented them, we know what they buy from us."

Siyo says Telkom, which in the past offered life and device insurance to consumers, is looking to extend its insurance offerings to small businesses. In addition, it now makes small-business loans to clients of up to R1m, but usually ranging between R100,000 and R200,000. It has mobile wallets and can facilitate online payments for firms.

"Every solution we take to them must help to lower the cost of doing business," he says.

Given the rise in e-commerce activity in SA driven by Covid, it’s not surprising that Telkom, Vodacom and FNB have launched online marketplaces. SA has the highest internet penetration in Africa, at 56%, with 22-million people (37% of the population) participating in e-commerce, according to fintech operator PayU.

Once an aspiring chartered accountant, Siyo started in BP’s finance department in 2000.

Previous jobs include executive head of e-commerce at Standard Bank, head of digital for wealth investment management at Barclays Africa, and head of strategy, finance and online business at Santam.

His move to Telkom marked a return to tech and telecoms after having worked at MTN, the SABC and Oracle.

"Since my BP days, I’ve always been interested in technology. Initially, I was a bit afraid of it but because of my roles during that time, I was exposed quite early to sharing platforms. I was reporting trade data for BP Africa into a central system called the BP Finance Hub in London. I ended up becoming a champion of the platform, helping to roll it out in associate countries.

"So I caught up with technology during my days in finance, learning even more at Oracle."

The experience in financial services, he says, helped him to grasp how insurance and other products are structured and priced. "My interest in the tech space has always been about finding ways to commercialise that tech."

He says his job is a bit "like running a 50-year-old start-up. The business unit has been around for a long time but we have to operate differently."

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