Global crypto exchange Bittrex led a $1.5 million seed round in South African trading platform VALR.
Bittrex CEO Bill Shihara told CoinDesk the South African market has “tremendous untapped potential.” Fellow VALR investor Michael Jordaan of Montegray Capital told CoinDesk that VALR’s support for 50 cryptocurrencies will offer the most diverse range of assets of any African exchange when it opens to the public on March 1.
“The VALR team has the potential to change the cryptocurrency landscape in South Africa and globally,” Jordaan said.
VALR co-founder and CEO Farzam Ehsani told CoinDesk that 1,500 users, predominantly South Africans, have already signed up on the exchange’s waiting list and started activating accounts in a closed beta leading up the to launch.
Ehsani said a backend partnership with Bittrex will offer the new exchange global liquidity and competitive prices for crypto-to-crypto trading, while his team works on activating fiat on-ramps with South African banks by summertime.
Ehsani told CoinDesk:
“Companies are not allowed to go and buy [large amounts of] crypto from offshore markets. This makes it very difficult for crypto exchanges in South Africa to access liquidity from international markets. [South Africans] want their hands on a store of value that doesn’t depreciate the way the rand has.”
Over the past decade the South African rand has nearly halved in value. Meanwhile, capital controls restrict citizens from transacting across borders with more than roughly $72,000 worth of foreign assets or currencies.
This contributes to why bitcoin is often sold for a high premium on peer-to-peer exchanges like LocalBitcoins. For comparison, on Tuesday a single bitcoin on LocalBitcoins would have cost more than $4,100 in South Africa compared to the global rate of roughly $3,800.