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Proximus may list TeleSign despite quest for a unicorn

Proximus has announced that it may seek to list TeleSign, as it seeks to drive growth at the business while also keeping control.

The Belgian incumbent made the announcement on the back of media speculation about the future of the business, a Communication Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) outfit, or authentication specialist, if you prefer, its now fully-owned BICS unit acquired in 2017. It did not go into detail on the nature of the rumours, but clarified that it “has initiated preliminary discussions regarding a potential strategic transaction involving TeleSign.”

It explained further that it is exploring the possibility of a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger. As you might expect, it added that the process is ongoing and requires a number of further steps before it is finalised. And declined to comment further.

Speculation over TeleSign’s future began earlier this year when Proximus agreed to take sole ownership of international carrier BICS, spending €217 million to acquire Swisscom’s 22.4% stake in the operator and MTN’s 20% holding.

“After investigation of different options, Proximus has concluded that the best way to have the necessary flexibility to create long-term value for BICS and TeleSign was to acquire 100% ownership of BICS,” Proximus said, at the time. “Going forward Proximus will execute the growth plan of BICS and TeleSign, through a combination of organic investments in key growth domains, a strict focus on cashflow generation within the legacy business and an active role in capturing consolidation opportunities,” it said, also making it clear that it had distinct plans for BICS and TeleSign.

“With the recent appointment of Joseph Burton as CEO, TeleSign will enjoy increased autonomy to focus on accelerating its growth, leveraging its technology and global scale to help the world’s largest enterprises with the digital transformation of their businesses. The TeleSign growth strategy is centered around driving further product innovation and differentiation, while exploring possibilities for geographic expansion,” Proximus said. “As BICS and TeleSign transition to independent growth paths, they will sharpen their focus on execution in their respective markets while reinforcing operational synergies.”

All of which is long-winded way of saying we’re not done with these companies yet, but we’re not telling you what’s afoot. It soon started to become clear what Proximus’s intentions for TeleSign might be though.

Just weeks later Belgian business newspaper L’Echo quoted Proximus chief executive Guillaume Boutin as describing the business as a future unicorn, or privately-held start-up valued at north of $1 billion. “The ambition is to make a unicorn of it and we will achieve it,” he said. Meanwhile, TeleSign CEO Burton noted that the company is recording growth of 30%, having booked revenues in excess of $300 million last year, as if to say that that $1 billion figure is not as far away as it might seem.

If Proximus goes ahead with the flotation plan, TeleSign won’t technically achieve unicorn status. But its ambitious growth plans still stand. The listing is one possible route the telco could take; it has indicated that it has explored other avenues. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that it aims to push the business as hard as it can.

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