• Africa is expected to see the fastest growth in mobile money through 2025
  • The partnership is expected to support a “mushrooming” NFT community on the continent, AZA Finance CEO Elizabeth Rossiello said

Crypto exchange FTX has teamed up with Africa-based AZA Finance to expand the adoption of Web3 and digital currencies across the continent.

AZA Finance, a financial tech company focused on payments and foreign exchange products, launched Africa’s first digital currency exchange. It has expanded to 10 African markets to date, executing more than $250 billion in global transactions across roughly 115 countries and 300 currency pairs.

The company became the largest non-bank provider of currency exchange in Africa last year after its acquisition of South African payments company Exchange4Free.

“We’ve been growing our infrastructure across the continent up into Europe and the Middle East for almost nine years now, and we’ve been welcoming some of the largest customers in the world,” AZA Finance CEO Elizabeth Rossiello told Blockworks.

“This is the first time that we have a partner of this size that also wants to work with us exclusively across the continent and enter some new markets with us.”

An FTX spokesperson said initial priorities in Africa will be the development of fiat on-ramps, the securing of local licenses, localizing its current offerings, fiat liquidity and customer support.

FTX and AZA Finance will work together to connect African markets to the Web3 economy by building infrastructure and educating local users, the companies announced Wednesday.

The companies also seek to make it easier to deposit and pay out in African currencies on FTX.com, and they plan to launch African currency and digital currency trading pairs.

Most exchanges in Africa don’t offer many liquid equities, Rossiello said. As more investors seek alternatives, FTX offers NFTs, as well as tokenized stocks and other tokenized assets that are not readily available on the continent. 

“African customers can access these products by going through multiple counterparties,” Rossiello said. “But to have a direct-to-user experience really requires a true effort from the platform to invest locally in customizing the product suite and working with local regulators.”

Pent-up demand

Africa has a growing middle class comprising digitally native people who have been using mobile money for a decade, Rossiello explained.

The continent’s population is projected to double between now and 2050, according to the Brookings Institute. Two-thirds of the population growth will be in urban areas, with a workforce among the world’s largest as early as 2030. 

The region had nearly half of global mobile money accounts in 2018 and will see the fastest growth in mobile money through 2025, a separate Brookings Institute report found.

“This is where the investors of the future are coming from, and I think it’s kind of silly to corner off platforms that are investing in digital currencies as just speculation,” Rossiello said. “This is actually the way that young people are investing today, and by young, I mean anywhere from 15 to 45.”

The growth of NFTs

FTX and AZA Finance will also focus on onboarding African NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and artists to FTX’s NFT marketplace.

The crypto exchange first revealed plans for its NFT marketplace in June and launched it later in the year.  

Rossiello said the NFT community on the continent is “mushrooming,” but noted that artists and creators have not had a platform offering them liquidity in local currencies.  

“In a lot of ways, Africa has been excluded from a lot of the financial services and infrastructure around the world, whether it’s from de-risking or other global policies,” she said.

“So we’re just part of the movement of fintechs and home-grown companies that are focused on not letting that happen for Web3.”

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  • Ben Strack is a Denver-based reporter covering macro and crypto-native funds, financial advisors, structured products, and the integration of digital assets and decentralized finance (DeFi) into traditional finance. Prior to joining Blockworks, he covered the asset management industry for Fund Intelligence and was a reporter and editor for various local newspapers on Long Island. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism. Contact Ben via email at [email protected]