Cambist suspends platform

Uncertainty continues.

CAPE TOWN – Users on the Cambist online platform were sent an email on Tuesday evening informing them that “buying and selling on the Cambist platform has temporarily been suspended”. This follows upheaval at the company that operate(d) Cambist, OneLaw.

On Monday morning, OneLaw dismissed the majority of its staff, and told them that the company would be entering liquidation. There was no word on how this would affect Cambist until users received a brief email after the close of business on Tuesday.

The usually active Cambist twitter account (previously @OneLawCambist) had also not tweeted anything new since Thursday November 28. Moneyweb however sent a direct tweet to the account asking for information and received the following response:

“Cambist is a separate company, previously a product of OneLaw, but not any more. Cambist did not retrench any of its staff.”

Moneyweb asked when this separation happened, what Cambist’s new company registration number was, and whether Cambist would be changing its Twitter handle. We received no further response by the time of publishing, but Cambist did change its Twitter handle to @Cambistplatform.

The company’s position on its status is however totally different to previous communications on the subject. Cambist has in recent times been at pains to insist that Cambist is part of OneLaw. This is because it wanted to draw a distinction between itself and the troubled microlender Bridge.

OneLaw, Bridge and Cambist are all inter-related, having all been started by the Aldum family. When Bridge went into business rescue in September, Cambist provided Moneyweb with the following statement: “Cambist is just a product name of OneLaw and is not a legal entity. Although OneLaw has empathy with Bridge’s current status, it is not affected by it.”

That was only two months ago. Now Cambist is claiming something quite different.

The full communication sent by Cambist to its users on Tuesday evening reads as follows:

Cambist Newsflash

    • “Cambist is a separate entity registered as a separate company. Previously it was a product of OneLaw, but this is not the situation anymore.
    • A lot of activity has occurred at OneLaw during the last few months, due largely to factors out of its control. Management at Cambist is continually assessing the situation in order to protect the interests of its users.
    • Collections happening on all existing Cambist matters will still proceed as per normal. This is because the collection attorney appointed for each matter is still responsible for this. Neither OneLaw nor Cambist have in the past or do currently facilitate any collections.
    • Cambist did not retrench any of its staff.
    • Buying and selling on the Cambist platform has temporarily been suspended due to the developments referred to above. We will keep you updated as to this activity.
    • Cambist users will be kept up to date if any new matters arise.”

Moneyweb logged onto the Cambist platform on Wednesday morning and at no point were we prevented from accessing new contracts. There was no change to the way the platform looks or operates, and there was no warning anywhere on the website that activity has been suspended.

If users are unable to sell any contracts they hold, it raises the question of what will happen if these become non-performing. Cambist has always insisted that it guarantees the return, but it has never adequately provisioned for buying out every contract sold on the platform.

Staff at OneLaw given an hour to leave

Illustrating the extent of the trouble at OneLaw, a former employee has told Moneyweb how staff members at the company were called together on Monday morning and dismissed with immediate effect. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source explained how representatives from human resources ushered everyone out of the building within an hour.

“In my life, I have not experienced such treatment,” the source said. “On Friday we were normal employees, and Monday we closed the doors.”

The source said that staff were read a brief statement in which management blamed Marikana and the South African Reserve Bank for OneLaw’s financial troubles. They were told that as OneLaw would be entering a liquidation process and that retrenched staff would not receive their December salaries, nor would any of those who took voluntary separation over the last month receive the promised severance packages.

Employees, some of whom had worked at the firm for more than five years, were told to leave without being offered any compensation. Cryptically, human resources representatives said that they should claim their money from the Reserve Bank.

Separate sources have confirmed that OneLaw’s management has blamed troubles at the company on Marikana before. After the tragedy that unfolded at Lonmin’s mine in August 2012, courts have become more reticent about granting emolument attachment orders (EAOs) that formed the core of OneLaw’s debt collection business.

Moneyweb has also confirmed that a few OneLaw staff members were offered positions at law firm Flemix & Associates. The individuals who made the move have been offered the same salaries they were receiving at OneLaw.

OneLaw had been the sole provider of IT services to Flemix & Associates, and part or all of this function has been absorbed into the latter company. Director of Flemix & Associates, Alanza Flemix-Jordaan confirmed in an email that: “as a result of the termination of the service level agreement with OneLaw, all IT functions will be done within the firm itself”.

Moneyweb did attempt to contact Rueben Aldum and Lise Oerlemans at Cambist for comment. However, phone calls were not answered, and messages and emails were not returned by the time of publishing.

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