Anyone who’s ever traveled outside the United States has been in a similar situation. They still have a few Euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars or Japanese yen in their pocket, but nowhere to spend them.
In many cases, the value of the currency would barely cover the exchange fees, so those extra coins and bills usually end up at the bottom of the sock drawer or given to the kids as mementos to show off to their friends.
A new kiosk project is offering another option for that leftover currency. The project, being pilot-tested by Los Angeles-based Leftovercash, allows those world travelers to exchange leftover coins and bills for gift cards and/or donate the equivalent amount in U.S. currency to the company’s charitable partner, The Giving Spirit. The charity assembles and distributes care packages to homeless men women, children, and families living on the streets of Los Angeles.
The project is the brainchild of Canadian-born Ferdinand Poon, who spent time as a CPA, an attorney and a Wall-Street equity analyst before hitting on the idea for the Leftovercash kiosk.
“I didn’t have any experience in the kiosk industry before embarking on the Leftovercash project,” Poon said. “I was looking for something that was a little more personally satisfying, and as someone who travels frequently this idea just struck me.”
Insert bills here
Poon initially worked with a college professor to develop the software, then contracted with Louisville, Colo.-based Kiosk Information Systems to build the prototype unit. The device is currently operating inside the Vicente Foods supermarket in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The Leftovercash kiosk accepts bills in the form of Euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars, Japanese yen and Swiss francs as well as dollar-equivalent coins in those currencies. The unit features separate slots for bills and coins.
“We initially wanted to go with those currencies that were relatively stable, so there wouldn’t be an issue with fluctuating exchange rates,” Poon said. The company is considering adding Mexican pesos at some point in the future.
To begin the exchange process, users enter their email address and zip code and are prompted to insert their bills and coins in the designated slots. Multiple types of currencies can be inserted in a single session. Once that’s done, they are presented with a total in U.S. dollars minus a $3.99 transaction fee. The user has the option of receiving a gift card and/or donating a portion to The Giving Spirit. Gift cards are exchanged in $10 denominations, with the user having the choice of donating the odd currency or inserting a debit or credit card to round up to the next $10 increment.
Donations are tax deductible, although Poon has found that most users don’t take advantage of that feature. At present, the gift cards can be used at the Vicente Foods where the kiosk is located, although it does have the capability to add gift cards and e-gift codes from other retailers such as Staples, Lowes and Overstock com.
Finding the fit
One of the questions Poon frequently fields is, “Why aren’t you locating Leftovercash kiosks in airports to capture those travelers as they come off international flights?” Although the question is a good one, Poon’s response is equally as good.
Anyone who’s ever tried to do business with their local airport authority knows doing so can be a costly affair in terms of rents and other fees. After all, a captive audience isn’t the only reason a cup of coffee at an airport restaurant costs $7 or more. The cost of placing a Leftovercash kiosk at the airport would likely either make it a money-loser or force Poon to raise transaction fees to a point where it simply wouldn’t be worthwhile
In addition, exchanging their currency for gift cards may not be top-of-mind for someone coming off a 6-hour flight and spending another hour going through customs and collecting their luggage.
“When you’re coming off an international flight, you’re probably not really interested in exchanging your currency and going shopping,” Poon said. “You just want to gather your bags and go home.”
On the other hand, nearly everyone would stop at the grocery store in the weeks following their international trip.
“With the grocery store, there’s a bit more immediacy to the process,” Poon said. “You can exchange your currency and use it right there in the store.”
And because locating a Leftovercash kiosk in a grocery store would likely result in additional sales for that store, a deployer would have leverage in negotiating payments for space, utilities and discounts off the face value of the gift cards.
For now, Poon is concentrating on tweaking the kiosk for maximum performance. Further out, his hope is to partner with an established kiosk company, a foreign exchange company, a travel-related company or other strategic investors on additional deployments.
“At the moment, we’re focusing on building a profitable kiosk,” Poon said.