MTN Group, Africa’s biggest wireless carrier, said Mastercard agreed to take a minority stake in its financial-technology business, which the company values at $5.2 billion (R98 billion).

“Signing of the definitive investment agreements is expected to occur in the very near term,” MTN chief executive officer Ralph Mupita said in a statement on Monday.

Africa’s young, tech-savvy population are increasingly using their mobile phones to bridge gaps in services including banking. That’s opened a lucrative and fast-growing space in the fintech sector for wireless carriers. Much of the attention to date has been on mobile-payment systems, with a wave of fast-growing startups such as Flutterwave and Interswitch emerging in the industry

Shares in MTN rose as much as 9.5% in Johannesburg. The valuation is strong given the fund-raising difficulties many technology start-ups are facing and the fact that Mastercard won’t receive a controlling stake, according to Peter Takaendesa, the head of equities at Mergence Investment Managers in Cape Town.

MTN share price

What Bloomberg Intelligence says:

Mastercard’s planned minority investment in MTN mobile money, at an EV of $5.2 billion, equates to 16x trailing Ebitda — well above Airtel Africa’s equivalent 10x. As well as boosting MTN’s see-through valuation, the cash could help the company’s balance sheet, temporarily substituting for dividends from subsidiaries and partly offsetting increased 2023 capital-spending guidance — both affected by forex – John Davies, BI senior telecoms analyst.

MTN rivals, including Airtel Africa Plc, Nairobi-based Safaricom and South Africa’s Vodacom Group are all at various stages of transforming from basic voice and text mobile use to digitalization, with a broad aim of separating and monetising the businesses in the longer term.

Airtel has already brought in Mastercard as an investor in its mobile-money unit. India’s Jio Platforms, the digital arm of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., set an earlier precedent by attracting capital from Facebook Inc. and Silver Lake Partners in 2020.

MTN has said previously it plans to raise R25 billion from asset sales. Its most recent disposals include the sale and lease-back of its South African mobile-phone towers and a plan to sell some of its West African assets. It also has a stake in New York-listed tower owner IHS Holding that it may sell down, although the tower firm’s low trading prices and a dispute with its management has delayed any sale in the near term.