[FRANKFURT] World travellers may soon be able to rid themselves of stashs of useless coins and bills in random foreign currencies - even old Deutsche marks.
From next Monday, commuters passing through London King's Cross tube station will find a self-service vending machine that converts currencies from 150 countries into pounds, dollars or euros.
It is different from current automated teller machines, which dispense only a handful of major currencies, or from foreign exchange booths, which trade banknotes and but shun most foreign coins.
Two British-based, South African entrepreneurs are looking to up-end the retail foreign exchange business including major names Travelex and Thomas Cook.
Their company, Fourex, has plans to introduce its machines at busy shopping centres and transport hubs across London, including Canary Wharf tube station next month. It is looking to expand to up to 300 or 400 high-traffic locations across Britain over the next year or two.
"Everyone has a drawer of money that is essentially worthless," said Oliver Du Toit, who with partner Jeff Paterson, co-founded the money exchange technology firm. "We have a machine that recognises almost any coin or banknote in the world." He said the machines were designed to accepts even the smallest denominations, from a far wider range of currencies than airport or high-street money-changers and with no hidden fees or commissions.
Technologically, it is based on the capture of high-resolution "digital fingerprints" of 200 currencies, including variants of 4,000 coin types and 1,100 bills. Its database covers major currency types from the world's top 50 economies and selected currencies from another 100 countries.
It also accepts out-of-circulation bills from the past 30 years, including Deutsche marks.
Started in 2012 and now based in Strood, Kent, Fourex was is part financed through crowd funding.
Earlier this year, it took in 670,760 pounds (S$1.45 million)this way, then in June, it was one of three firms out of 2,700 contestants to win Richard Branson's British "Pitch to Rich 2015" start-up competition run by Virgin Media .
Fourex took away 50,000 pounds in prize money, 250,000 pounds of in-kind business service contributions from Virgin along with business advice and marketing support.
The company said Fourex is now close to agreeing on a second, multi-million pound round of funding with entrepreneur and investor Larry Lipschitz, retired founder of South African automotive and logistics company Super Group.
Fourex is looking to set up franchise operations in other countries as a means of taking its technology global, Paterson said.