VertoFX, an Africa and emerging markets-focused currency trading and payment startup, has raised a $2.1 million seed round, led by Accelerated Digital Ventures.
The London-based company, with a subsidiary in Lagos, Nigeria, has created a platform that allows businesses and banks to exchange and make payments in exotic foreign currencies that don’t often convert or trade conveniently across businesses or banks.
For example, South Africa’s Rand is Africa’s most convertible and traded currency — with lower spreads and transaction costs — while currencies of countries such as Ethiopia or Egypt may be difficult or expensive to trade or transact B2B payments.
“That’s the reason we are utilizing technology to create a marketplace model and price discovery to create liquidity for these currencies,” VertoFX founder Ola Oyetayo told TechCrunch.
There are around 40 global currencies that are considered exotic or illiquid, most of them in frontier markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle-East, according to Oyetayo.
And there’s a revenue opportunity to creating a convenient online marketplace for trading and payments in these currencies.
“Our research says there’s about $400 billion being done by small and medium-scale businesses in Africa alone in transactional volume on an annual basis. If we take 1% of that as a commission or transaction fee, that’s a $4 billion addressable market, just in the continent,” said Oyetayo.
VertoFX was founded in 2017 by Oyetayo and Anthony Oduwole — both ex-global bankers born in Nigeria. The company was part of Y Combinator’s 2019 winter cohort and processed around $7 million in transaction volume last month, according to Oyetayo.
VertoFX is registered as a payment services provider with the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. Current clients include several undisclosed banks and San Francisco-based payment venture Flutterwave.
VertoFX doesn’t release revenue figures, but confirmed it earns a commission, or spread, on each transaction processed on its platform. There are currently 19 currencies on the platform and the ability to settle in 120 countries, including China and the U.S.
VertoFX is also moving into offering market research — toward potential subscription services — on the currencies it trades, according to Oyetayo.
The startup will use the round for platform development, expanding the currencies and gaining licenses in new countries. “We’ll also use the round for hiring, primarily in compliance and regulator type roles,” said Oyetayo. VertoFX already has a developer team in India and is looking at local developer talent for its Africa offices.
ADV’s Ryan Proctor confirmed the VC firm’s lead on the investment round, which also included participation from YC and several local angel investors in Africa, Oyetayo told TechCrunch.
On the possibility of becoming acquired by a big bank, VertoFX isn’t so interested, according to Oyetayo.
“We both come from big banks and if we’d wanted to go down that route we’d have developed this more as a software as a service platform,” he said.
“We’re playing the long game here, and I don’t think acquisition is the end game,” he said.