Verto, a London-based B2B cross-border foreign exchange (FX) and payments enabler for startups and small businesses, said it has acquired a quarter of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) customers from Africa and the MENA region.
According to the startup’s own data, SVB had nearly 250 clients operating in both regions before its collapse — the American bank provided startups with venture debt, credit cards, and term loans. Thus, it is onboarding over 60 companies and venture firms (some with headquarters in the U.S. and Europe), including Jumia, Chipper Cash and TapTap Send.
After the bank’s collapse, African startups have been forced to review their banking options to cushion them from future eventualities. Founders and investors who spoke to TechCrunch last month said they would hold funds in multiple bank accounts across big financial institutions, which are generally perceived to be safer. They said they would also leverage smaller fintechs such as Brex and Mercury that have more extensive FDIC protection (both platforms recently increased their provision to protect deposited funds up to $2.25 million and $3 million, respectively). Though local and homegrown options for African startups and investors were few and far between, it’s unlikely to remain the case in coming months as fintechs such as Verto are getting in on the action, attempting to position themselves as alternatives.
Verto’s primarily provides a cross-border platform that helps startups, SMEs and large corporates send, receive and exchange money in more than 190 countries. Clients can hold funds in their Verto accounts in up to 51 currencies. The company, which has over 7,000 clients, including MTN, Yoco and Interswitch, says its transaction volume grew 70% last year to over $3 billion. It expects to triple this volume within the next 12 months after carrying out some expansion plans as well as product launches. Among other things, the startup launched “safeguarded” USD accounts last month following SVB’s fallout.
“Depositing money with U.S. banks is the most popular option for African startups but most of them rarely meet the conditions of doing so. Meanwhile, companies like us have simple banking solutions built and catered for startups based in Africa and other emerging markets. While we had been building this product, we recently launched in beta in light of these events where we’ve got an influx of demand from some startups and VCs,” co-founder and CTO Anthony Oduu told TechCrunch over a call, adding that customers can access up to 25 safeguarded accounts (holding different currencies) on Verto.
Safeguarded accounts are commonly used by U.K. financial institutions and bodies to protect U.K.-based customers by ring-fencing their funds from financial shocks. It doesn’t work like FDIC insurance or U.K. deposit schemes where deposits are capped at £85,000 and $250,000, respectively. Safeguarded accounts cover the total amount of relevant funds irrespective of how much a client holds in the bank. For instance, if a customer has £500,000 in such an account, they receive that amount should the bank dissolve.
Verto, as an E-Money institution, says it has extended these accounts to other international currencies regardless of the customer’s country of incorporation. The fintech company says it holds “designated safeguarding accounts” with accredited banks in the U.K.; neither the startup nor the banks can claim the funds in these accounts, Verto says. Should it go insolvent for any reason, customers’ funds remain protected. Meanwhile, funds protected under safeguarding obligations do not attract interest payments, unlike funds in typical insured accounts.
“From the moment we receive your funds for the execution of a payment service or for loading your wallets, we treat those funds immediately as funds to be safeguarded and will ensure they are not commingled with other funds,” the company said in response to questions on why founders and investors should use safeguarded accounts. “These funds are marked as ‘relevant funds’ to be safeguarded at all times and we move all relevant funds to the designated safeguarding accounts. We keep records of our client’s balances held with us and reconcile these daily so that we are never short on funds being safeguarded.”
Verto says it’s received more than $30 million in monthly deposit requests per company; however, Oduu notes that this money won’t sit idle in their accounts as most of its newfound clients plan to use Verto for operational purposes, such as payroll and payouts. The fintech, founded in 2018 by Oduu and Ola Oyetayo and backed by Y Combinator, has raised over $12 million from investors, including emerging markets-focused VC firm Quona Capital, Treasury (founded by Betterment’s Eli Broverman and Acorns’ Jeff Cruttenden) and Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP).
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Photo and Author: Tage Kene-Okafor