SoftBank Corp plans PayPay IPO, peeks beyond Japan

With Japan's mobile market maturing, SoftBank Corp looks to pan-Asian data analytics, chat and driverless cars for other bets to boost its numbers.

Pádraig Belton, Contributor, Light Reading

May 11, 2021

4 Min Read
SoftBank Corp plans PayPay IPO, peeks beyond Japan

It's a flurry of Japanese IPOs, under the springtime Minato cherry blossoms.

SoftBank Corp plans to list PayPay, its redundantly named payment app with 40 million users, and its SB Payment Service may follow close on its heels.

"I don't think that would be too far out," said Junichi Miyakawa, who took over last month as CEO.

Figure 1: Window shopping: Softbank Corp seems to have caught the acquisition bug from its parent company. (Source: knowmadic media on Flickr CC 2.0) Window shopping: Softbank Corp seems to have caught the acquisition bug from its parent company.
(Source: knowmadic media on Flickr CC 2.0)

Miyakawa is bringing a "Beyond Japan" plan to SoftBank Corp, one of the country's big three wireless carriers with a stable market share around 25%.

But Japan's mobile market is maturing, meaning breakout growth is unlikely for the operator.

In the last financial year (ending in March), its operating income rose by 6%, its revenue by 7%, all solid performances but nothing to write home about.

This will cool somewhat more in the coming year, with Miyakawa guiding net income to rise 2% to ¥500 billion (US$4.6 billion), and revenue by 6% to ¥5.5 trillion ($50.7 billion).

Only the enterprise segment, where income bolted up 29% as companies went online and needed digital help to do it, stood out last year.

So Miyakawa is looking elsewhere: chat, data analytics and ultimately driverless vehicles. The company will earmark ¥40-50 billion ($368-461 million) a year to go shopping with to grow acquisitions, Miyakawa said on a conference call with analysts.

ADA boy

The popular Asian chat operator Line, which began life in disaster response after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, has merged with SoftBank Corp's Internet subsidiary, Z Holdings.

And looking to fix its wagon to the region's fast-growing stars, SoftBank Corp is taking a 23% stake worth $60 million in ADA, the data analytics business and AI arm of Malaysia's Axiata Group.

ADA will use the extra cash to try to expand beyond Malaysia into South and Southeast Asia.

Interested in Asia? Check out our dedicated content channel here on Light Reading.

In a different direction, SoftBank will also try to redouble efforts on the autonomous driving front it began in 2018, when it started work on a self-driving platform together with its Japanese compatriot Toyota.

Honda Motor and Hino Motors are now hitching a ride with this SoftBank-Toyota venture, called Monet.

With the new partners, SoftBank has a 40.2% stake in Monet (it had just over 50% at Monet's birth), while Toyota holds a 39.8% stake. Honda and Hino both now take 10%.

SoftBank's other prominent past bets have included Pepper, the humanoid robot the company brought out in 2014, together with Aldebaran, which later became SoftBank Robotics.

(Pepper now talks to himself, vocalizing his AI thought processes in a feature meant to smoothen out human-robot cooperation.)

A small price to PayPay

Miyakawa hopes PayPay will become a "super app," an Asian-style Swiss Army Knife like Tencent's WeChat.

With its gross merchandise volume growing 2.6 times to ¥3.2 trillion ($29.5 billion) in the last financial year, it doesn't seem that big a stretch.

Elsewhere in its stables, SB Payment Service Corp's payment processing services saw its transaction value hop up 14% from the previous financial year, to ¥3.2 trillion ($36.8 billion).

All of this reaching into new segments might even start to remind you a bit of another company, also called SoftBank.

With its increased collection of bets outside Japanese mobile networks, it's "definitely sounding more like SoftBank Group here," US-based Masa Capital dryly noted on Twitter.

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Pádraig Belton, contributing editor special to Light Reading

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Pádraig Belton

Contributor, Light Reading

Contributor, Light Reading

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