Have Change, Will Travel

Consumers now have more options to burn their leftover foreign currency than to buy cheesy souvenirs at the airport’s Duty Free shop. Dror Blumenthal, CMO and Co-Founder of TravelersBox, gives PYMNTS a sneak peek at the airport kiosks that can convert currency into instant deposits on PayPal, iTunes or a host of e-gift card accounts.

It’s a common dilemma for corporate road warriors and tourists alike: What to do with the loose lira, pound notes and pesos in your pocket once the trip is over. For many of us the solution is simple: Toss it in a change jar upon getting back home. That’s a waste of buying power.

Enter TravelersBox, a startup that has been setting up kiosks in airports globally – and offering an automated process that lets travelers take currency and transfer bills and coins directly into online accounts in yet another currency, but into goods and services through marquee names that range from PayPal to iTunes to Skype and a host of others. Or, those using the kiosks can elect to make charitable donations instead. The several boxes the company has are in airports located in Turkey, Israel, the Philippines, Japan and Istanbul, and the startup has just announced its first launch within the North American region, at Canada’s Toronto Pearson airport, where 10 kiosks will be in operation by late this month.

In an interview with MPD’s CEO Karen Webster, Dror Blumenthal, one of the three co-founders of the company, noted that “it makes sense to have a machine that can convert real money into digital money, as people do so much online, and they buy everything from music to books.” Blumenthal and his two co-founders, Idan Deshe and Tomer Zussman, approached banks and credit card companies about finding ways to bring small change deposits back directly onto cards – and found there was no easy solution. The technology took shape into a first kiosk based in Istanbul installed in 2013, with an initial ability to take only coins. “But,” added Blumenthal, “after a few weeks a lot of people said they wanted to do bills – and so we put in bill acceptors. And now 80 percent [of transactions] are in bills.” The process involves inserting a bill (or change) into the machine and then the user can get a card, choose a language and then across a number of the aforementioned brands, with confirmation sent to the user via email or SMS that serves as evidence of the transaction if they choose instead to load up on digital wallets. They also must enter account specific info when prompted by that email or SMS communication and link. There is no minimum deposit amount.

In terms of the economics of the business thus far, Blumenthal said the company takes a 7 to 8 percent cut of each transaction. Yet that is markedly better, according to Blumenthal, than the roughly 15 percent that some exchange windows charge to convert currencies. “We do not have high expenses to operate,” said the executive “and so we can charge less.”

In reference to cost structure, Blumenthal said the biggest cost remains renting the space for the kiosks at the airport. In the meantime, each kiosk at present is servicing roughly 200 people per day, said Blumenthal, with an average transaction value of $20 each – and conversions – that is, changing from currency to products themselves tend to vary across nations, with higher rates across English speakers, and relatively lower rates for, say, users of Arabic currencies, due in part to the nature and breadth of products offered.