The American Transportation Safety Authority collected nearly $675, 000 in loose change left behind at security checkpoints in 2014. It’s not that people are prone to throw away hard-earned cash, but leftover foreign currency isn’t always easy – or worthwhile – to convert to your home currency.
That’s where TravelersBox comes in, with ATM-like machines set up in international airports that could provide a unique solution to this ongoing traveling hitch.
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Much more effective than a savings jar, this automated kiosk lets travelers deposit their leftover change from one currency directly into online accounts in another currency including PayPal, American Airlines, AT&T, gift cards (iTunes, Starbucks, Skype, Gap, Aroma and many others); or to make a charitable donation.
“The basic idea is that you can deposit any amount of leftover change. Even one cent, ” Dror Blumenthal, one of the cofounders, tells ISRAEL21c.
The innovative service and technology lets travelers cash in their Turkish lira, US dollars, rubles, euros, Georgian lari, British pounds, Canadian dollars and pesos at any of 40 boxes in the Philippines, Georgia, Turkey, Israel and Italy (each country accepts different currencies).
Since TravelersBox deployed its first kiosks in Istanbul in April 2013, the feedback, says Blumenthal, has been positive.
“We just celebrated our one millionth transaction, ” Blumenthal says. “We’re trying to move as fast as we can to keep us as the leading company in this area. We want to be the most flexible solution.”
Savings jar to revolution
Blumenthal, 38, and his childhood friends Idan Deshe, 37, and Tomer Zussman, 39, came up with the notion about four years ago. Zussman was living in New York at the time, and Deshe and Blumenthal – cofounders of the Ecaliptoos Advertising Agency, which they have since sold – came for a visit.
Zussman, a security specialist, was a frequent traveler on the Tel Aviv-New York route. His overflowing jar of loose change made his two friends burst out in laughter.
But it gave them an idea for a new business.
“We started out asking credit-card companies if it was possible to deposit directly to them. It took almost two years to find out the final answer that it was impossible, ” says Blumenthal, explaining that the transaction fees are prohibitively high for small change deposits.
Instead, the three friends looked into designing deposit boxes that would make the complex transactions required to convert international currencies into simple e-wallet deposits and gift cards replete with an easy user experience.
They established company headquarters in Gibraltar and an R&D center in Kadima, a community 35 kilometers north of Tel Aviv.
It took nearly two years of tinkering before the first kiosk box appeared in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
Blumenthal says most partner companies jumped on board right away but some tried to require a minimum deposit.
“If a brand says the minimum deposit amount is $5 then we say, ‘no.’ We want to be able to tell our customers that they can deposit even just one cent, ” he says. “The maximum is $800, in accordance with regulation and money-laundering rules.”
Users are sent an email or SMS confirming their deposits.
TravelersBox takes a seven to eight percent cut per transaction, depending on the amount deposited, to cover financial fees it incurs for its service.
Blumenthal says that while some people think TravelersBox is taking away from charity organizations like the Change for Good program – which asks passengers to donate their unwanted foreign coins while flying – the kiosks actually enhance charitable giving opportunities.
“If you want to donate your money, you can choose from a range of different charity organizations and not only the ones on the airplanes, ” he says, adding that the Israeli organizations running on-board El Al campaigns have reported a jump in donations thanks to the TravelersBox kiosks in Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
The three Israeli entrepreneurs behind the venture-backed, privately held company are now expanding the service. They recently shipped 20 units to Toronto and another 20 boxes to Tokyo.
“The short-term goal for 2016 is to have about 200 boxes running and operating in the best locations we can, ” says Blumenthal, noting that they’re also working on an app that will make it easier to use your change from duty-free purchases. “Our second goal is to finish the other product that is in development and announce it in a few months.”