Verto co-founders Ola Oyetayo and Anthony Oduwole

INSIGHTS

The platform changing how businesses move money across borders in emerging markets

Ola Oyetayo had been working in finance in the UK for nearly a decade at behemoths including American Express, Barclays, Lloyds and ICBC Standard Bank when he began to hear from more and more friends back in Nigeria where he’d grown up, all facing a similar problem. Many of them were running businesses and struggling to make cross-border payments to their suppliers. One friend who sold Oracle software to banks in Nigeria struggled to make his regular payments to Oracle because of the challenge of converting local currency to USD. And it wasn’t just friends in Nigeria having this problem. Another friend in South Africa had a hard time getting paid for the work he did outside the continent. “These are very standard corporate transactions,” Oyetayo says. “I did a deep dive and realized businesses in developing markets all had this challenge. There wasn’t any liquidity in the local market for U.S. dollars.”

Oyetayo was convinced a solution needed to be brought to market. So in 2016, he left his job at ICBC Standard Bank to focus on the idea. Oyetayo started a rudimentary remittance marketplace using WhatsApp to help people in the UK send money back to family members in Nigeria. He used it as a crash course in the logistics and challenges of cross-border payments. “The big problem is with businesses, but the existing structure was there for remittances,” he says.

When Oyetayo mentioned the payments marketplace during a poker game meetup with friends, one of them, Anthony Oduwole, started spitballing ideas with him. Oduwole had just started an MBA program at Imperial College Business School and had experience working in technology. He convinced Oyetayo that an actual tech platform could be built to solve this problem. In the summer of 2017, they decided to co-found the platform Verto to help businesses in emerging markets make cross-border payments.

Getting the company off the ground meant working through a massive maze of regulatory requirements and setting up an entity to deal with banks and payment partners. Oyetayo and Oduwole decided to focus on Nigeria, the UK and the U.S. to start. In October of 2018, they launched the first version of the platform amidst a group of pilot users. At the start of 2019, they got accepted into Y Combinator and spent the next three months in the Bay Area. “We needed to get a better version of the product out,” says Oyetayo. “Getting into YC and raising $2.1 million as seed put us on that trajectory.”

Verto closed its seed round in the summer of 2019 and focused on hiring and scaling for the rest of the year. They concentrated efforts in developing local partnerships and learning about the unique payment ecosystem structures across the various markets they were looking to expand into across Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Just as COVID hit in the early spring of 2020, they were ready to ramp up and go to market. “In places where there were lockdowns and there was no brick-and-mortar store people could go to, the ability to go online and make these payments was gold,” says Oyetayo.

Verto grew quickly from a team of eight at the start of 2021 to a 35-person team. Today users on the platform can send and receive transactions in 39 different currencies across Africa, the Middle East, the UK, and the U.S., and the platform is in the process of adding three more markets within the next year. “The crux of what takes our time to open up into a new market is the localization of services,” says Oyetayo. “It’s a lot of finding local partners.”

Today businesses can collect and make payments using a single account that operates in multiple currencies across Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Verto also offers an API that companies can use to build their own in-house cross-border payments tools. And companies can quickly and easily onboard customers to make payments using Verto’s API.

The platform is focused on expanding its wallet functionality, which enables users to hold money in any of the 39 currencies available. The goal is to enable users to send funds seamlessly to each other without the impediment of banking payment rails. “Right now if you need to make an international payment, it can take 48 hours to get the funds,” says Oyetayo.

Verto also plans to expand to include more financial services to include a loans and savings marketplace. “We want to have a universal way of connecting businesses that want to transact with each other,” he says. “We want it to be a one-stop-shop for businesses that trade internationally.”

Quona Capital is a venture firm specializing in financial technology for inclusion in emerging markets. Learn more at quona.com.