Zone, Africa’s first licenced blockchain payment infrastructure company, will launch a remittance product in 2025, Obi Emetarom, the company’s CEO, told TechCabal this week. “Work is actively going on” to develop the product, Emetarom added.
Zone plans to address the three critical pain points remittance providers, and International Money Transfer Operators (IMTOs) face: distribution, liquidity, and licensing. Remittance startups need robust distribution networks to deliver funds to recipients, even without direct connections to the local banks. They also struggle with managing liquidity in different local currencies, which can be expensive. The third hurdle is navigating the complex licensing requirements across different jurisdictions.
“We want to deliver these services. The integration is possible because we are a switch and already connected to banks. Secondly, liquidity is possible because our settlement is instant,” Emeratom said. “And in terms of licensing, we already have a switching license, and our roadmap is to ensure that we have all the licenses that we need to operate in different markets.”
In December 2023, Nigeria’s Central Bank reversed a two-year ban on crypto-related bank accounts and later released stringent rules for banks opening crypto accounts. At least two crypto startups have applied for licences from the country’s capital markets regulator, the Security Exchange Commission (SEC). Emeratom describes this as a “fantastic development” that will open up opportunities in cross-border payments.
Beyond its current role as a payments processor and switch, Zone has ambitious plans to reshape the financial landscape. The company envisions a future defined by regulated decentralized finance (DeFi), combining the strengths of blockchain technology and the legitimacy of traditional finance. “We’re working on a white paper to design what that future will look like. We are also building Zone to become the foundation for that future,” he said.
Founded in 2008 by Emeka Emetarom, Obi Emetarom, and Wale Onawunmi, Zone (formerly Appzone) rebranded from a fintech software provider to a blockchain payment infrastructure company in 2022. The transition saw the company split into two entities: Appzone’s cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform rebranded into Qore, while Zone remained the blockchain-based payment gateway.
Zone, licenced by the Central Bank of Nigeria as a payments switch, runs a blockchain network that enables direct transaction flow between financial service providers without an intermediary. Thirteen Nigerian banks use Zone’s blockchain network to process ATM transactions.
Zone earns a fee for every transaction processed through its channels, and in 2023, the startup claimed it processed $1 million daily, but Emeratom says “the number has gone up,” though he declined to share specific figures.
The startup plans to roll out more use cases for its blockchain payments technology, including online payments and direct debit. “The ATM was just to showcase the technology. The big deal for us is that we have been able to get in as a new payments infrastructure, and now we can move to higher value channels.”
Zone will also launch Zone 2.0, a new blockchain infrastructure built on the Ethereum standard, allowing instant settlements for financial institutions. The startup has plans to launch in the Global South markets, particularly Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.