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Monday, May 16, 2022

Gathering Up That Loose Change

It’s an all-too-common experience. Come back from some overseas vacation, only to find useless foreign currency falling out of every pocket and suitcase. Of course, you could head to a bank to exchange the coins for dollars, but who wants to take the time to do that? That scenario sums up the impetus behind Leftovercash Inc. The startup founded by Ferdinand Poon, 45, of Los Angeles, exchanges the Euro, Canadian, Japanese and Swiss and British currency via an automated kiosk. “You recycle Coke bottles for five cents – you’re not going to do this and bring home a gift card?” he said. “We want to train people that this is an option.” Last month, Poon set up his first kiosk at the Northridge Fashion Center, but there is a twist: Customers do not receive dollars. Instead, they have an option to buy a gift card for Laemmle Theatres, Overstock.com and other retailers. Or they can make a donation to a charity such as the local chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation. The machine also accepts U.S. dollars to buy the gift cards or make a donation. While not accepting Mexican pesos in a largely Latino market like Southern California might look like an oversight, Poon said for now he made a decision to stickwith the most stable currencies. “We definitely plan to keep adding,” he noted. Poon makes money from a $3.95 flat fee for each exchange, and also gets a 5 to 20 percent discount from retailers who provide the gift cards, which are sold at face value. He is entering a crowded market. For example, LA Currency Exchange, in Van Nuys, buys and sells almost 80 types of currency, though it does not accept coins. But it doesn’t charge an upfront fee and offers dollars. Poon, however, is optimistic his business will grow, noting his fees are lower than at airports. He developed the machine with a team of programmers and put well over $100,000 into the venture with the help of family, friends and some outside investors. He would like to add more machines after tracking performance for six months. He said he chose the Northridge mall because it is owned by General Growth Properties Inc., a Chicago mall developer with a nationwide portfolio. “Once the kiosks are up and running, it won’t require much, because we’ve done the hard part,” Poon said. – Stephanie Forshee

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