I started my role as President & CEO of SoftBank in April 2021. First of all, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the victims of the outbreak of COVID-19 and my heartfelt sympathy to those who have been affected by it.
In the spirit of our corporate philosophy, “Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone,” we at SoftBank strive to envision what is coming, and use technology to provide people convenient lives and rich experiences with our services. This is how we have always enhanced corporate value. Looking back, we offered fast, low-cost broadband services sooner than anyone else in the early 2000s and have contributed to the popular adoption of broadband in Japan ever since. Then in 2008, we were the first to start offering iPhones in Japan, and by providing a high-quality mobile Internet infrastructure, SoftBank set the stage and became the leader in spreading smartphones in Japan. In anticipation of the future of digitalization, we are actively developing and expanding the latest technologies. More recently, SoftBank launched the smartphone payment service PayPay in 2018, and in addition to focusing on making cashless payments widely available in Japan, we are also taking initiatives in IoT, AI and autonomous driving.
The global scale of the outbreak of COVID-19 created higher demand for telework and e-commerce as digitalization in society accelerates. Now more than ever, there is a great opportunity for SoftBank, the company that moved in the direction of digitalization sooner than anyone, to show our significant presence as a company by contributing to society. Amidst such significant shifts towards digitalization, as President & CEO, I am determined to further enhance our corporate value using power of technology, leveraging experience as CTO for SoftBank for over 10 years. A company will change over time, but we will always progress without forgetting our starting point: “Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone.”
I’d now like to transition to a Q&A format so that I can answer some common questions received from investors, such as queries about our management vision and strategy, progress towards medium-term performance targets, future outlooks in each business, and thoughts on shareholder returns.
Mr. Miyakawa founded an Internet service provider (ISP) in 1991, serving as president for about 10 years. He joined what is now SoftBank Corp. in 2001 and was appointed Director & Executive Vice President (CTO) in April 2006. He contributed to the growth of SoftBank primarily as head of the Technology Unit. He was appointed Representative Director & CTO of SoftBank in April 2018. More recently, Miyakawa served as president of multiple group companies, as well as directing the AI business partnership jointly promoted by SoftBank and the University of Tokyo. He has served as President & CEO of SoftBank since April 2021.
Assuming the Role of President & CEO
Our corporate vision is to become “the corporate group needed most by people around the world.” When I was appointed as President & CEO, I took some time to think again about what I need to do to make this vision happen.
In the next 10 years, I think we’re going to witness the arrival of a hyper-digitalized society, in which everything in the society will be digitalized. The progress toward a digitalized society will be even more accelerated post COVID-19 which has driven the progress unexpectedly. Going forward, all industries will move toward digital transformation. There’s a demand in the market for someone to lead the implementation of digital technologies in society, a role for which SoftBank is perfectly positioned. The reason is that our Company’s strength is both in the offline arena including 4G/5G communications infrastructure and sales channels for consumers and enterprise and in the online arena including B2C platforms like Yahoo! JAPAN, LINE and PayPay with a user population of tens of millions, and thereby enables us to play the central role of implementing digital technologies in society. I believe we can revitalize industries while solving social issues and contribute to job creation. And I’m certain that facilitating society’s adoption of digital technologies will lead to continuing increase in corporate value.
SoftBank will further promote the Beyond Carrier strategy that’s been in place since the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018. Beyond Carrier is a strategy that aims to expand business fields other than telecommunications, while further growing our core telecommunications business. As part of the strategy, former President & CEO Miyauchi launched the smartphone payment service PayPay, added Yahoo Japan (now Z Holdings) as a subsidiary, which runs Yahoo! JAPAN, one of the largest portal sites in Japan, and integrated Z Holdings and LINE, Japan’s largest-scale social communication service provider. These initiatives brought to our Group huge user bases: 55 million telecommunications service users*1, 80 million Yahoo! JAPAN users*2, 41 million PayPay users*3, and 89 million LINE users*4, and make us the largest scale telecommunications and IT group in Japan. Building on the success, I will move the Beyond Carrier strategy to Phase 2. As of March 31, 2021, our Company has 335 subsidiaries and affiliate companies*5, many of which operate platforms that provide online services and deploy a variety of businesses. At present, each company is optimizing their own platform individually, but in Phase 2, we want to create new value by connecting these platforms with the power of cutting-edge technologies to achieve total optimization and make services even more convenient and richer for users.
- *1Sum of cumulative number of mobile communications services subscribers (47.285 million) and cumulative number of broadband subscribers (8.139 million) (as of March 2021)
- *2Annual number of logged-in user IDs (as of March 2020)
- *3Cumulative number of registered users (as of August 2021)
- *4Number of monthly active users (as of June 2021)
- *5Total consolidated subsidiaries, equity method affiliates and other affiliates (as of March 2021)
Progress on Medium-term Targets
Operating income for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 was ¥970.8 billion, and we’re on track to our ¥1 trillion goal. The first time that SoftBank announced the ¥1 trillion target for operating income to our investors was in May 2019. After that, our business environment changed drastically as competitors announced new brands and new price plans and competed by reducing mobile service prices. We plan to mitigate this impact through the growth in the Enterprise segment and Yahoo! JAPAN/LINE segment as we work together as one to achieve our target.
Due to the March 2021 reductions in mobile service prices, we forecast a negative impact of about ¥70 billion on operating income in the Consumer segment for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022. Therefore, we forecast a decrease year on year in Consumer segment income for the fiscal year ending March 2022, but we feel that we’ll make up for this headwind with increase in smartphone subscribers and cost reductions. In addition, SoftBank will seek to expand revenues outside mobile communications charge, such as by offering electricity services and broadband services to consumers and providing optional services like device warranties and security.
There is no doubt that lowering mobile service prices is a headwind in the short term, but I believe that growth in the Consumer segment is still possible in the medium- to long-term. The conventional mobile market in Japan is centered on person-to-person communication, and as the number of smartphone subscribers approaches that of the Japanese population, it will be difficult for the whole market to grow. However, with the spread of 5G, which features “simultaneous massive machine connections,” an environment for the explosive spread of IoT devices is almost ready in terms of technology. Going forward, IoT modules will be installed in a variety of home appliances and other devices, and a wide variety of data will be exchanged. I believe that IoT modules that let you communicate using only button cells will be installed in things that were previously unimaginable, such as shoes and bags. Within the next 10 years, there will be hundreds of millions of devices connected to the Internet, and that will be creating revenue-generating opportunities.
In addition, as society as a whole becomes more digitalized and various convenient digital services become widespread, the frequency of smartphone use and the amount of data used in people’s daily lives will also increase. I am convinced that the Company’s leading role in promoting the digitalization of society will generate a positive impact on the Consumer segment.
For the Enterprise segment, our forecast for operating income is ¥128.0 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, and we have announced a target of ¥150.0 billion in operating income for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023. This is an ambitious target considering that the operating income for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 was ¥107.7 billion. It assumes annual growth between 15% and 20%.
However, I believe that there is still a lot of room for growth in the Enterprise segment. Earlier I mentioned that for SoftBank to increase its corporate value, it needs to become a leader in implementing digital technologies in society. The Enterprise segment is going to take that role.
Most of the companies and local governments that we do business with in the Enterprise segment have not done enough for digitalization. In the fiscal year ended March 2021, demand for telework spiked and mobiles services and solutions like cloud services and security that support workplace reform drove our performance. And we anticipate that digitalization won’t stop with workplace reform—a huge wave of digitalizing corporate activity and general government services is on its way. Enterprises that use telework and experience the benefits of going digital firsthand will want to use RPA and AI to automate various kinds of work. Once they go automated, their needs will grow more sophisticated. They will want to integrate the information isolated in each department to streamline management, and they will want to create new digital services. This represents massive need and a growth opportunity ready to be seized by the Enterprise segment, and the rapid growth is just now starting. Eventually, I want to make the Enterprise segment a pillar of SoftBank like the Consumer segment, generating profits at the level of hundreds of billions of yen.
Z Holdings does business in the commerce, media, and strategy fields, but what I am really excited about and what our entire Group is working on is the commerce field. Z Holdings has set a target to become No.1 in e-commerce transaction value (merchandise)*6 in Japan in the early 2020s. The fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 saw high growth in e-commerce transaction value due to increased demand from the outbreak of COVID-19, but I see synergy with the whole Group, such as further collaboration with LINE, closer partnerships with PayPay, and utilization of SoftBank’s telecommunications business customer base, improving e-commerce transaction value. Z Holdings’ strategic FinTech field is still in the upfront investment phase, but it has a lot of potential and I expect that it will be spurred by the partnership with PayPay to reach a scale next to media and commerce.
- *6E-commerce transaction value related to merchandise
First of all, the business integration of LINE and Z Holdings will create significant synergies in the commerce and media fields we just talked about. Also, the fact that LINE has become a part of the Group means that we now have the last piece of Phase 1 of the Beyond Carrier strategy; the impact of this integration is huge. And I think we’ll see synergy not only between LINE and Z Holdings, but between LINE and our Consumer and Enterprise segments as well.
The Consumer segment released LINEMO, a LINE-affiliated brand available exclusively online, in March 2021. LINEMO offers LINE Giga Free, a service in which LINE can be used without consuming monthly data allowance that is proving popular and has led to gains in subscribers.
The Enterprise segment has the advantage of being able to propose LINE-based solutions that competitors cannot imitate. For example, when a client company develops a new digital service, SoftBank’s Enterprise team can now be the contact point and propose an entire system that contains everything they need, from cloud services to devices. The client could instantly deliver new digital services to consumers on a proven platform used by tens of millions of LINE users.
A Holdings Corporation, a strategic holdings company in which SoftBank and NAVER each invested 50% capital, owns the new Z Holdings that has integrated the businesses of LINE and Z Holdings. These changes further strengthened the relationship between NAVER and SoftBank. NAVER is a company that operates the largest search engine portal in South Korea, but beyond that, it is a very technologically advanced company that develops cutting-edge technologies such as shopping, AI, autonomous driving and robotics. SoftBank established steering committees with NAVER in the fields of advertising, commerce, positioning and maps, cloud, and overseas business to work towards maintaining speedy collaboration and creating synergy among both companies.
I’m very aware that investors have this concern. However, since LINE underwent administrative guidance related to handling of personal information immediately after the business integration, Z Holdings has made the improvement of data governance and security their highest-priority issue. Z Holdings is a listed company and while SoftBank respects this independence, we have requested Z Holdings to accelerate their effort to generate synergies with our support on all fronts, because we have a track record of rapidly generating synergies when we acquire many different companies.
Synergy among the businesses is gradually materializing during the first quarter of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022 as LINE’s individual performance is becoming profitable on a quarterly basis, excluding temporary factors. Going forward, we expect further growth through synergies based on business selection and centralization and advanced data linkage associated with the business integration of Z Holdings and LINE.
PayPay serves as a platform for popularizing electronic payments, which is recommended as part of a new lifestyle during the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, and is growing rapidly by providing merchants with various services to digitalize their sales promotion activities. The gross merchandise value of PayPay in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 was ¥3.2 trillion, 2.6 times the previous year. Even though we achieved significant growth, personal consumption in Japan is estimated to be about ¥300 trillion, which makes PayPay’s share still no more than roughly 1%. SoftBank is confident that this gross merchandise value is nowhere near being finished growing. Without stopping at simply payments, PayPay offers a wide range of features that make daily life easier and is promoting expanded services in what could become a “Super App” for use in every aspect of daily life.
To speak of profitability going forward, the payment service fee that until now had been offered at no charge to small- and medium-sized businesses will be offered for a fee starting in October 2021. But PayPay doesn’t intend to make money from these payment service fees alone. The service’s close link to many types of consumer activity through the settling of payments could be the origin of many opportunities for revenue. For example, users can select Buy Now, Pay Later function when settling a payment, or make a virtual investment using their PayPay account balance, or purchase insurance. We’re looking into further expanding financial services centered on the payment platform as well as future profitability opportunities.
SoftBank began offering 5G service in 2020 and people may be tempted to think that an increase in communication speeds alone is not really a significant change. The reason that’s not true is that the current 5G service, called a “non-standalone mode” service, is provided by linking existing 4G core networks with 5G base stations. There are three major features of 5G: “ultra-high speed and large capacity,” “massive machine connections,” and “ultra-low latency,” but in “non-standalone mode,” only “ultra-high speed and large capacity” are viable. However, in the “standalone mode” scheduled to be released in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, fully independent 5G-dedicated core networks will link to 5G base stations, bringing the 5G features I mentioned above to their maximum capacity. The feature I look forward to most is “ultra-low latency,” in which people will be able to use information in real time without feeling any sense of lag even from remote locations. In other words, even when you are far away, things will appear as though they’re right in front of your eyes and you will be able to operate construction machines and medical devices. When “standalone mode” is completely implemented in 2022, within five years the world will change as dramatically as after the switch from feature phones to smartphones. Envisioning a time when “standalone 5G” becomes widespread, SoftBank established a “5G Consortium” in June 2021. The 5G Consortium is an organization comprised of experts and companies from many fields, communications device vendors, suppliers and solutions partners who meet to review and discuss specific ways to solve issues by industry or field and openly carry out proofs of concept (PoC). In this way, we will co-create revolutionary products and services that leverage the features of 5G with all kinds of partners and lay the groundwork for future growth. Please look forward to progress in this area.
When it comes to overseas expansion, we have put in a lot of hours at SoftBank for a long time now as we considered medium- to long-term growth strategies. What must be kept in mind is that Japan has the highest percentage of population aged 65 or older in the world, and is the first country in the world to cope with the numerous social issues that come with the aging of society. I believe that solutions which work well for social issues in Japan will mostly apply to countries overseas that will face aging populations in the future. However, even if we find innovative solutions to social issues, I am not currently thinking about acquiring overseas telecommunications carriers to implement these solutions. This is because I have learned from past experience not to use this kind of approach. In 2013, our parent company SoftBank Group Corp. acquired management rights to the U.S. telecommunications company Sprint Corporation. I moved to the U.S. and began serving in 2014 as Technical Chief Operating Officer, supporting efforts to improve the company’s performance on the technical front. However, I learned that it is very difficult to get the desired return with this method when there is both high investment and large assets. That is why I define Beyond Japan as a strategy to expand the business established in Japan to overseas in partnership with excellent overseas companies while controlling risks and costs.
The first successful implementation of this Beyond Japan concept was a capital investment in Axiata Digital Advertising Sdn.Bhd. (ADA) that SoftBank announced in May 2021. ADA is a group company of Southeast Asia’s largest telecommunications group, Axiata Group Berhad, and operates its digital marketing business to 10 Asian countries. Through capital investment in ADA, we can control risk and cost as we expand SoftBank’s digital marketing business in Asia.
Though dividends remain unchanged, we have added the implementation of flexible share buybacks, to keep the “total shareholder return ratio of approximately 85%*7 for the period from the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023” policy unchanged. Our policy to pursuit both growth and shareholder returns will not change, but we will make firm investments in growth to capture the vast opportunities alongside the digitalization of society and the Company intends to reward our shareholders with an increase in corporate value. We have no intention at this time of lowering the amount of dividend per share in the future, assuming there are no extreme changes in the business environment. The Company will continue to actively issue shareholder returns on the assumption of profit growth.
- *7Total amount of dividends paid and treasury stock retired during the three years from the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021 through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023/total amount of net income attributable to owners of the Company during the same three years
First, let’s review the positioning of both companies. Z Holdings is a company primarily competing in the online market. On the other hand, SoftBank has 4G/5G communications infrastructure and sales channels for consumers and enterprise that allow us to reach deeply into the offline market. Also, by executing the Beyond Carrier strategy, we are able to use Yahoo! JAPAN, LINE and other online platforms under the Z Holdings umbrella, and we are able to reach deeply into the online market as well. If we leverage the advantages of being able to reach deeply into both the online and offline markets, SoftBank will be in a position to comprehensively implement digital technology in society even in larger markets. For example, when working on the autonomous driving business, which is expected to expand rapidly in the future, it is very important that we have a 5G communication infrastructure that is essential for autonomous driving and have strong ties with automobile companies. In providing autonomous driving as a service, Yahoo! JAPAN and LINE’s existing and established B2C platform used by tens of millions of people works immensely to our advantage. We pride ourselves on the fact that SoftBank is an enterprise capable of comprehensively fitting society with digital technology in this kind of market and can reach deeply into both the online and offline markets to meet investor expectations. In addition, as I just mentioned, SoftBank is known for issuing a high standard of shareholder returns. The Company rewards shareholders in both growth and shareholder returns.
There is a clear difference between our parent company, SoftBank Group Corp., which is a strategic holding company that invests on a global scale, and SoftBank, an operating company targeting expansion in non-communications fields as it further grows its core telecommunications business. Having SoftBank Group Corp., whose business area differs from ours, listed together with SoftBank allows for a more diverse response to investor needs.
I believe that SoftBank’s status as a SoftBank Group Corp. subsidiary is a great advantage for us as an operating company. SoftBank Group Corp. is invested in unicorn companies around the world directly or through funds. So for us, being able to partner through SoftBank Group Corp. with global unicorn companies that have premier business models and technologies means that we can commercialize excellent business models and technology in Japan while minimizing risk. Of course, we make all decisions on which companies to partner with based on their compatibility with the Japanese market, and we are not forced by our parent company to collaborate with companies that SoftBank Group Corp. invests in. Management decisions are made carefully to ensure that the interests of minority shareholders are not compromised.
As President & CEO, I assume full responsibility for business execution. Chairman Miyauchi is responsible for the partnership with Z Holdings and partnering with AI unicorn companies around the world in which SoftBank Group Corp. invests directly or through funds, and improving internal collaboration within the Group to create even more synergies.
Mr. Son and I have a bond from fighting many battles together since the early 2000s when we began an aggressive entry into broadband. At the time of my appointment as President & CEO, he has given me a lot of advice. He has encouraged me to “let technology lead the company.”
Mr. Son remains on our Board as Board Director, Founder, but he hasn’t attended any internal management meetings for many years now and only attends Board meetings. He provides wonderful insight and shrewd critiques at Board meetings that add greatly to the improvement of corporate value. One example is the multifaceted advice concerning partnering with AI unicorn companies around the world, which largely benefits our business strategy. Another aspect is the solid line Mr. Son draws between SoftBank Group Corp. and SoftBank as they are both listed companies, so there is never any disadvantage to minority shareholders of SoftBank as a result of Mr. Son’s ideas as president of our parent company.
Enhancement of Disclosure
Right now, investors and analysts rate our Company in one bundle as a “telecommunications company.” But SoftBank’s business has been diversified, with the percentage of mobile communications charges that make up our consolidated revenue fall to 28% in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021. SoftBank is already more than just a telecommunications company and participates in many cross-sector businesses. For example, in the Enterprise segment, SoftBank provides IT solutions to companies, maintaining two-digit growth in operating income; Z Holdings does business in the commerce and media fields, and PayPay increased gross merchandise value by 160% year on year and reached ¥3.2 trillion in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021. Thus I anticipate that by executing the Beyond Carrier strategy and continuing to diversify businesses going forward, investors can value our businesses in multiple sectors using the Sum-of-the-Parts valuation method. To that end, the desire to provide more and more materials for Sum-of-the-Parts valuation is behind the enhanced disclosures we are currently making. SoftBank believes in making both positive and negative performance thoroughly transparent and facing the capital market fairly, and that’s why we’ll continue to enhance our disclosure to every degree possible going forward.
Medium-term Management Risk
In the short-term, the risk is the impact of mobile price reductions, but I don’t see it as a significant risk because the Enterprise segment, Yahoo! JAPAN/LINE segments, and new business fields such as IoT are growing, so it looks like we’ll be even less dependent in several years on revenue from mobile communications charge.
The growing Enterprise segment is getting inquiries from client companies nearly every day. Rather, we face a problem of securing enough sales and engineering personnel to respond to client expectations and deciding which companies to partner with. These are challenges to maintaining high growth and for which we’re pressed to find an answer.
Hiring AI engineers has become an important management issue, and we are competing human resources with overseas Internet companies. I actually directly handled hiring myself in some cases. The Company is going to overcome challenges and be on equal footing with these companies in hiring.
SoftBank also knows the importance of working to improve governance of appropriate processing of personal information throughout the Group. In light of LINE undergoing administrative guidance for personal information handling, the Company is creating stronger internal control systems to process personal information properly throughout the Group.