Profile: How ICE3X Is Building A Bitcoin Exchange In Africa

By Paul Adepoju AFKI Original Published: January 15, 2015, 1:08 pm
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Earlier this week, Nigeria was the focus of the bitcoin world with the official launch of the country’s first bitcoin exchange by South Africa-based company ICE3X (Internet Currency Evolution Cubed). Founded by Gareth Grobler, the exchange is partnering with Nigerian payment processor VoguePay to open up Africa’s biggest market. The exchange allows for bitcoin to be exchanged for South African Rand or Nigeria’s currency, Naira.

Up until now, bitcoin was largely discussed by tech enthusiasts and financial market aficionados.  Even within these groups in Africa, bitcoin used to be seen as a poorly understood foreign virtual form of making and receiving payments. Despite this, founders of African startup BeamRemit.com told AFKInsider they successfully deployed bitcoin in raising funds in the wake of the Ebola outbreak that ravaged certain parts of Africa.

Grobler’s company has started a process which he believes could eventually offer Nigerians access to international vendors.

Stacking Up Virtual Currencies

Currently residing in London, Grobler was born and raised in South Africa. Over the past 14 years, he has gathered vast experience in IT Infrastructure and architecture development working with major companies such as Investec Bank, UBS, BNP Paribas and Lloyds TSB, before launching ICE3X — which is currently one of Africa’s two operational bitcoin exchanges.

Even though Nigeria’s local currency (the Naira) is getting much attention, Grobler told AFKInsider that it is just one of the three trading currencies ICE3X will be launching this month.

“Our business model is reliant on having a full order book exchange as we are focused still on the development of our commodities escrow product, which we plan on launching towards the end of the year,” he said.

Unique services focused on Africa

Grobler is sensitive to trends and global economic perception in Africa. Concerning Nigeria for instance, he said the negative perception by the larger economies that had once defined international financial relations has dramatically changed over the past five years. And with the additional option that the bitcoin exchange is bringing to the table, he believes it could mitigate financial risks for vendors, and would open up a host of new markets to target risk-free.

Grobler’s company is planning to achieve these things by introducing one-of-a-kind solutions on the continent that bring versatility and multiple currencies to Africa’s bitcoin exchange market.

“From an exchange perspective our service is the only one available at the moment and the only one in Africa offering more than one digital currency, but we have taken a different approach to exchanges that just add a currency,” Grobler added. “Our platform will only allow Naira deposits and Naira withdrawals and only through the VoguePay platform. This creates a few opportunities and has quite a few benefits.”

Building trust, tackling fraud and ensuring security

ICE3X believes building trust is critical to the success of any business as shown in the success story of services such as Western Union, which relies on local agents. Grobler’s company is also striving to encourage local businesses to develop local solutions on top of the company’s framework.

“We have a trading API at the moment which is currently being built out with quite a few new features,” he said.

ICE3X’s platform allows local business to expand on their vendor lists as they have a fraud-free secure and immediate payment method for international transactions. He said the transactions on the exchange are completely transparent and could be fully audited.

There is also allowance for the development of innovative solutions to facilitate low cost remittances, which he said is completely scalable and will create immense competition.

“Our escrow product streamlines transactions [and] facilitate new channels for international trade,” he said.

In addition to secure transactions, the ICE3X platform benefits everyone in the fight against corruption, money laundering and terrorism financing.

“Initially, a possible stumbling block when it comes to customer acquisition, the fact that a user of our platform has to go through KYC/AML with two completely separate companies gives great assurance to our customers,” Grobler said.

South Africa versus Nigeria 

The decision to extend ICE3X’s operations to Nigeria was an easy one for the company considering Nigeria’s demographics and size of the digital economy, which Grobler said are very attractive to any business in the internet and telecoms space. He noted that the country’s huge positive strides—  especially under the incumbent administration — are quite impressive.

While there are lots of opportunities the company will soon be exploring in Nigeria, South Africa, across the continent and even beyond, Grobler said the current focus of ICE3X is the development of its commodities while hoping there will soon be new entrants into the market.

“Companies like VoguePay (ICE3X’s partner in Nigeria) have a huge market that is growing almost as fast as technology is changing. It is these opportunities we hope companies will exploit using our infrastructure.”

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