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New York-based Digital Currency Group snaps up Luno

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 09 Sept 2020

South African-founded Luno, the country’s largest crypto-currency exchange, has been acquired by Digital Currency Group (DCG), a global enterprise that builds, buys and invests in blockchain companies.

Luno began in SA and the company says it now has five million customers spanning over 40 countries, as well as almost 400 employees based in London, Singapore and SA.

In a statement, Luno says New York-based DCG will be making a significant financial commitment to help Luno expand globally, both in geographies where Luno currently operates and beyond.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Led by co-founder and CEO Marcus Swanepoel, Luno has become a digital asset powerhouse in many emerging and frontier markets, providing digital asset education, knowledge and investment tools for individuals in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.

Luno says it has helped to broaden the global crypto investment community and has seen record growth of its customer base in 2020.

The company claims it is a leading exchange in several countries that have the highest percentage of crypto-currency ownership, including South Africa (third-highest of its citizens owning digital currencies), Nigeria (fifth-highest), Indonesia (sixth-highest) and Malaysia (tenth-highest).

DCG is an investment firm that has backed more than 160 blockchain companies around the world.

In addition to its venture portfolio, DCG is the parent company of several wholly-owned subsidiaries, including Grayscale Investments (a digital currency asset manager), Genesis (a digital asset prime brokerage), CoinDesk (a media and events company in the industry), and the recently-launched Foundry, which provides institutional expertise, capital and market intelligence to Bitcoin miners and manufacturers.

Strong backers

Luno CEO Marcus Swanepoel.
Luno CEO Marcus Swanepoel.

DCG first invested in Luno in its seed round in 2013. Luno has also been backed by global tech giant Naspers Group and Rand Merchant Investments, which have sold their stakes in Luno to DCG.

“We are proud to have supported Luno as an early investor, and we recognise a shared commitment to building mission-driven companies that can help transform traditional financial services and improve economic freedom for people all over the world,” says DCG founder and CEO Barry Silbert.

“Luno is a high-growth, global business and there is a massive opportunity to expand organically and through acquisitions.”

DCG enables its subsidiaries to operate as independent companies, providing leadership, partnership and investment capital to help scale the businesses.

The Luno leadership team will remain intact and Swanepoel will lead acquisition efforts in his role as CEO.

“The past seven years has been an incredibly exciting journey for Luno – helping millions of our customers get access to crypto for the first time,” says Swanepoel.

“DCG has been an integral part of the Luno story during this time, and we’ve been fully aligned on our vision and culture since day one. Having the full backing of DCG just as we’re experiencing such a pivotal moment of growth in the industry is not just an exciting and important milestone for Luno, but more importantly, it will significantly accelerate our ability to reach our goal to help upgrade one billion people to a better financial system by 2030.”

“We have been extremely impressed with Marcus and the Luno team since we made our initial investment,” adds Silbert. “Marcus understands our culture and appreciates how well Luno fits into the DCG family. He is a focused, high-integrity leader and exactly the kind of person we want running one of our companies at this critical moment when the crypto industry is at an inflection point.”

Luno maintains key regional offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kuala Lumpur, Lagos and Jakarta, and will continue to focus on the existing geographies where it operates across Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia.

Delightful transaction

Meanwhile, Rand Merchant Investments, through its fintech investment arm AlphaCode, has today exited its investment in Luno.

Explains Dominique Collett, Rand Merchant Investments senior investments executive and head of AlphaCode: “We are delighted by this transaction as it is AlphaCode’s first exit and well above our targeted internal rate of return of 25 – 35% for our fintech investments.

“We have enjoyed working with the Luno team and still believe in the potential of crypto-currencies and Luno’s solid growth potential. We supported management selling the business to DCG as it is very well-positioned to leverage the platform. We wish the Luno team and DCG all the best and will be watching their future success with interest.”