KUWAIT: Zain Group Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held yesterday at Zain Group's headquarters in Kuwait, that was livestreamed for shareholders and qualified parties and attended with a shareholder quorum of 75.14 percent. The AGM approved the recommended cash dividend of 23 percent (23 fils per share) for the second half of 2021, payable to the shareholders already registered in the company's record as of 6 April 2022. The cash dividends will be paid to eligible shareholders commencing 13 April 2022.

Zain Group Chairman Ahmed Al-Tahous

This cash dividend of 23 fils per share follows the semi-annual dividend of 10 fils distributed in the second half of 2021, thus totaling 33 fils per share dividend for the year. This third consecutive payment of 33 fils per share on an annual basis completes the company's three-year minimum commitment that started in 2019. Zain Group Chairman, Ahmed Al-Tahous said: The Board of Directors welcomes all shareholders and affiliated parties to the annual General Assembly, and we are pleased to present the Zain Group annual report, available only in digital format.

2021 was a successful year in terms of driving shareholder value given the board and management's focus on operational efficiency, significant investment in network upgrades, while managing the negative effects of the pandemic on our operations. As economic activity across our footprint generally recovers, Zain is well prepared to exploit the multiple opportunities opening as demand for telecommunications services continues to rise by individuals and enterprises alike. Our 4G and 5G networks, data centers, cloud and other customer facing digital platforms are all future ready and operating at optimal levels.

Zain looks forward unlocking opportunities brought by the 4th Industrial revolution, establishing a strong foothold within the government and enterprise sector and providing meaningful connectivity to the communities we serve. We express our sincere appreciation for the confidence shown to us by our valued customers and shareholders, as well as by all the government ministries and regulatory authorities across our markets given their support in overcoming the challenges of the emerging industry dynamics.

Zain Vice-Chairman and Group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi

Zain Vice-Chairman and Group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi said: The annual dividend payout of 33 fils reflects a 77 percent payout ratio, one of the highest in the region, providing a clear indication of the strength of Zain's financial solvency and solid operational performance. It also reflects the company's ability to execute on its profitable growth plans despite the continuing challenges of the pandemic and impact of unavoidable currency devaluations on the business.

2021 was a successful year in terms of driving shareholder value given the board and management's prudent execution of our sustainability-conscious 4Sight strategy that empowered Zain to be a leading technology innovator. Promoting digital inclusion is of critical importance for governments and businesses at the present time and Zain continues seeking new lucrative business verticals in the digital arena.

Given the presence of the pandemic, digital technologies are being relied upon in a growing manner to bridge the digital divide, prepare the workforce for more innovative jobs in the future, and develop secure digital platforms. Zain Group continues to accelerate investments in new business verticals, being one of the first telcos in the region to provide digital applications and platforms to support enterprises and governments, and it has continually built on that competitive advantage. We are also creating significant value for shareholders through the unlocking of capital and optimization of infrastructure assets through our tower sale and leaseback strategy.

There has been a surge in demand for broadband access due to the pandemic, and Zain has risen to the challenge across its markets.  The company continues to diligently deal with other challenges including fluctuations in currency exchange rates, additional taxes, regulatory developments, intensified competition, the rise of unlicensed competitors, and the evolution of purchase patterns and consumer spending. As we seek out new growth opportunities in a sustainable conscious manner, our priority remains to provide world-class telecommunication services to our valued customers while delivering excellent returns to shareholders and maintaining impeccable corporate governance.

KUWAIT: Zain Vice-Chairman and Group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi (center) addresses the annual general assembly at Zain Group’s headquarters yesterday

Driving financial performance

The solid performance in 2021 reflects the success of monetization initiatives implemented by management across Zain markets. The significant investments we have made in 5G rollouts in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; 4G upgrades and new network sites across Iraq, Jordan, Sudan and South Sudan; and expansion of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure; as well as spectrum license fees paid have made Zain future-ready to exploit the next phase of growth. Throughout 2021, Zain Group invested USD 1.1 billion in CAPEX (21 percent of revenue).

For the full-year 2021, Zain Group generated consolidated revenue of KD 1.5 billion ($5 billion), a year-on-year (Y-o-Y) decrease of 5 percent. Consolidated EBITDA for the period declined by 5 percent Y-o-Y, to KD 628 million ($2.1 billion), reflecting an EBITDA margin of 41 percent. Consolidated net income reached KD 186 million ($616 million), up 2 percent Y-o-Y and reflecting earnings per share of 43 fils ($0.14).

For the full-year 2021, currency devaluations in Sudan from 55 in January 2021 to 436 (SDG/USD) end of December 2021; in South Sudan from 175 in January 2021 to 426 (SSP/USD) end of December 2021; and a 19 percent currency devaluation in Iraq from 1,190 to 1,470 (IQD / USD) resulted in a foreign currency translation impact of $962 million in revenue and $479 million in EBITDA.

Notably, if the $962 million currency translation impact on revenue was excluded, Y-o-Y revenue would have grown by 13 percent to reach $6 billion, and EBITDA would have grown by 17 percent for 2021. We continue to manage significant currency devaluations in these countries by revamping prices and focusing on monetizing new digital services while seeking lucrative opportunities in the enterprise segment to capitalize on network rollouts. The Group's operations achieved significant growth in digital service revenues, generating over $2.1 billion, representing 42 percent of Zain Group's consolidated revenues for 2021.

Optimization of tower network

Portfolio optimization is a key component of the 4Sight strategy, unlocking capital and allocating resources for more effective and sustainable use. Accordingly, Zain has focused on sharing passive assets with competitors in some markets, thereby reducing its carbon footprint. In Kuwait and Jordan, Zain has moved to sell its towers and lease them back, while in Saudi Arabia, a tower sale is likely to be completed in early 2022. We have partnered with TASC Towers to expand our tower strategy to build on the success of the transaction in Jordan.

Revamping the wholesale business

In 2021, Zain relaunched its wholesale business, Zain Global Connect (ZGC), consolidating the capacity, voice and roaming businesses across Zain operating companies, ultimately evolving to become the single interface for all Zain operations.  Zain Global Connect also serves as a resource for other international carriers having requirements within Zain's footprint. The wholesale company seeks to become a truly regional carrier, opening up new revenue streams for the Group through local, regional, and international activities.

ZainTech offering full suite of digital and ICT services under one roof

We are confident that the introduction of ZainTech in October 2021 will drive shareholder value and support Zain's vision of becoming a leading ICT and digital lifestyle provider. ZainTech unifies Zain Group's ICT assets to offer enterprises and governments a unique value proposition for comprehensive enterprise digital solutions and transformation services under one roof. The entity will provide a center of excellence and managed solutions across the ICT stack including cloud, cybersecurity, big data, IoT, AI, smart cities, drones, and emerging technologies. ZainTech leverages Zain's global reach, unique footprint and infrastructure across its operations as well as other key markets in the Middle East to offer a single point of contact for sales and personalized customer care for multi-national corporations with multiple points of presence across the region.

Fostering innovation in fintech

Innovating and scaling mobile financial services across our operating markets is a key focus as we aim to fulfill our fintech aspirations of creating the first telco-led challenger bank in the region. Through fintech, we provide far-reaching benefits to exposed groups and others. We are energized by the customer uptake and transaction growth we have experienced with 'Tamam', our micro-financing arm in Saudi Arabia, 'ZainCash' mobile money platforms in Jordan and Iraq, and 'M-Gurush' in South Sudan.We will continue to foster innovations in fintech and have plans to launch fintech services in Kuwait, Bahrain and Sudan in 2022.

Zain Ventures supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem

We aim to foster digital transformation in our operating markets by investing in innovative digital services to create opportunities that bridge the digital divide, ensure business continuity, and advance socio-economic development. Accordingly, Zain Ventures was established in 2021 to spearhead Zain's existing investment portfolio and diversify its range of activities.

We expanded our relationship with regional and international venture capital funds, namely MEVP, Wamda, Colle Capital, BECO Capital and Valor Capital. During 2021, Zain Ventures invested in and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Pipe, a US-based financial technology company, which claims to be the world's first recurring revenue trading platform. We also invested in and signed a MoU with Swvl, a mass-transit industry leader that offers diversified transit solutions; and participated in ZoodPay's series B $38 million fundraising, joining other global and existing investors.

Zain Esports attracting a large gaming community

The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing regions for gaming in the world and Zain esports aims to foster the growth of the ecosystem in the MENA region and unlock the potential of talent. Since the establishment of Zain esports in November 2020, the entity has held 16 tournaments attracting over 18,000 gaming participants, over 43 million social media impressions, and 5.7 million engagements on its Twitch, YouTube and other social media channels.

As a good corporate citizen, Zain esports co-published a Child Online Safety booklet in collaboration with Zain Group Corporate Sustainability and UNICEF, which was distributed to various esports clubs in the region. Gaming is one of the largest use cases for mobile and home broadband services and is destined to help Zain operating companies connect to the gaming community through its state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Regulatory policies critical to our success

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and to support the upsurge in demand, national regulatory authorities granted Zain temporary spectrum or rights to use existing frequencies on a technology-neutral basis across our footprint. Zain also invested $379 million in 2021 to acquire additional spectrum licenses in several markets to provide sound connectivity and offer a wider array of digital services.

The region witnessed various forms of legislation and regulations implemented by telecom and financial services regulators to accelerate digital transformation, including in the areas of cloud computing, electronic payments, and enforcement of electronic contracts through the judicial system. These initiatives will serve to boost the take-up of digital services, and Zain is primed to maximize the opportunities in this space.

Corporate governance and compliance

Zain Group adopts a conservative approach to making decisions related to risk management, and adheres to the highest standards of corporate governance, as the Board of Directors works to ensure that the culture of accountability and compliance with laws, regulations and best practices is adopted Group-wide. Every employee across Zain entities is committed to the Group's Code of Conduct, all operating in a transparent manner and championing the principles of good corporate governance. Through these values and principles, the Group looks to have a positive impact on the telecom sector across the communities it serves.

Corporate sustainability at the forefront

Continuing to drive systemic change in the communities in which Zain operates by providing access to meaningful connectivity, the company is guided by the four pillars of its five-year corporate sustainability strategy, which is centered on Climate Change, Social Business, Inclusion, and Generation Youth. The company addresses societal deficits and challenges across its operations through foundational elements that include the furthering of its aim to safeguard the planet, fostering innovation, reducing inequalities, and building prosperous communities.

Zain is committed to implementing programs that make it a cleaner, more efficient, and environmentally friendly organization. Climate action also continued to be a critical item for Zain as the effects of climate change are evident across regions. Our climate efforts were recognized in December 2021 when Zain Group scored an A- in the latest CDP Score Report - Climate Change 2021, which ranks the company within the global leadership band and the highest ranked and only telecom operator in the Middle East and Africa.

Diversity and inclusion uplifts employees

We believe people are the company's greatest single differentiator, and so Zain takes the subject of uplifting its entire workforce extremely seriously and is proud to be one of the first telecom providers in the region to have established a diversity and inclusion department. We are focused on nurturing a diverse and inclusive culture, through a series of carefully crafted programs and initiatives, and we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. The pillars of the diversity and inclusion drive are based on five strategic programs: WE, our gender diversity initiative that targets Zain having 25 percent of females in leadership roles; WE ABLE, our disability inclusive program; ZY, our youth development program; Internal Innovation through Zainiac initiative; and BE WELL, our mental wellness program. These initiatives have all been successful in creating a more inclusive organization.  There has been a significant evolution in how we approach work and how leadership, culture, and values are established as being fundamental to nurturing an inclusive environment.

Zain's annual report available only in digital format

In accordance with the Zain Group Board of Director's vision to address our environmental footprint wherever possible and in alignment with Zain's Corporate Sustainability strategy, for the first time, the company is not printing the Annual Report, transitioning to a digital format only. The 2021 Annual Report can be downloaded by visiting: https://zain.com/en/investor-relations