PLDT, Inc. is having a hard time getting investors for its digital arm Voyager Innovations, Inc., its top official said.

“I think we are finding it harder to get investors… Generally speaking, I think the environment has changed. The tough questions are now being asked like when will you break even in terms of your EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and in terms of your profitability? And how sustainable is it? So these are tough issues,” PLDT Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Manuel V. Pangilinan told reporters last week.

He added: “I think the universe has become tougher in terms of the requirements for the turnaround.”

Mr. Pangilinan also said his group was in the negotiation process with potential investors.

“The demands for cash are still there as per schedule, so we are delayed in terms of getting the final list of investors to agree on the valuations and the amounts that they would invest. So, we decided that before they (Voyager) run out of cash, which is probably by the middle of the year or by June, before they hit the wall, they (current shareholders) should provide…[the funding],” he added.

In 2018, PLDT sold more than 50% of its stake in Voyager for $215 million (about P10.91 billion) to China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd.; US-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR); International Finance Corp. (IFC) and IFC Emerging Asia Fund. PLDT remains the single largest shareholder in Voyager.

Mr. Pangilinan noted that there had been an agreement among the four shareholders of Voyager to provide the initial funding for its operations this year.

PLDT had invested some P9-10 billion in Voyager from 2013 to 2018 before it welcomed the foreign investors into the firm.

“Then they will let the final investors decide in the next two or three months on what sort of investment they would like to make,” Mr. Pangilinan added.

In 2018, PLDT incurred a loss of P3 billion in Voyager, a 150% increase from P1.2 billion in 2017.

Last week, PLDT said Voyager’s losses in 2019 were lower by P1.2 billion.

Voyager’s portfolio includes PLDT’s mobile remittance brand Smart Padala, digital payments firm Paymaya Philippines, Inc., and financial technology firm FINTQnologies Corp. whose products include digital banking, digital aid and finance, and digital lending platforms.

Mr. Pangilinan expects Voyager to be profitable by 2023.

“I think the enterprise part of Voyager will come in positive gross profit first, followed by the consumer [segment]; then come 2023, it will break even totally as a company,” he said.

In December, Voyager President Shailesh Baidwan said the company was close to hitting 20 million users on its platforms as it aims to have P1 trillion annual transactions in PayMaya by 2023.

The company does not disclose actual user figures, but it previously claimed PayMaya had the largest active user base in the Philippines.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Arjay L. Balinbin