TradeSafe is a digital escrow platform for SA


South African fintech startup TradeSafe is safeguarding buyers’ funds in trust, or escrow, until sellers delivering what they have promised, in a bid to tackle concerns over online fraud in the country.

TradeSafe acts as a buffer between a buyer and a seller. Funds are deposited with TradeSafe, in full, whilst the two parties perform the transaction. The system is transparent, with payments tracked and visible to all parties.

Only once the buyer is happy with the goods or services received does TradeSafe release the funds. The startup was launched in 2013 after co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Jethro O’Brien was duped while trying to buy car parts that had been advertised online. Its platform was released to the market in April 2015.

“At the time, there was no solution. There was no middleman who could oversee transactions in order to protect everyone. Buyers were losing money and sellers were losing their goods – think of the typical Gumtree scam,” O’Brien told Disrupt Africa.

The self-funded TradeSafe, which takes a percentage fee on each transaction, was first to market with its API in South Africa, though it has since been joined in the market by global competitor

“Gaining the public’s trust has been our greatest challenge. Credibility and trust is the name of the game,” O’Brien said.

The startup is proving successful at that, however. So far, it has not seen a single failed transaction. TradeSafe is sector agnostic, but does have certain focuses. Its current top five income sectors are freelancing, general goods, motor vehicles, fuel and commodities, and rental deposits. A major future focus will be on the commodities sector.

“There is a pressing need for our services due to the high levels of fraud and criminality in these environments, more particularly in South Africa’s oil and gas sector especially with the trading of diesel,” said O’Brien.

“We can pay multiple beneficiaries involved in complex deals that may include agents, brokers, legal advisors, transport and logistics suppliers and a range of other third-party suppliers. We manage the full payment function and act as paymaster.”

Uptake has been positive, with TradeSafe seeing triple digit growth year-on-year thus far. It supports cross-border transactions between South Africa and other countries on the African continent, as well as international deals.

“Our negotiations with the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) are nearing completion. We will shortly be an accredited international third-party payment provider, and the first fintech startup to offer this service in Africa,” said O’Brien. “Our foreign exchange partner is Gapex which will allow us to support transactions in more than 24 currencies.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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