We’ve all got bits of fluff, foreign coins and the odd paper clip stuck in jar at home somewhere. Now you may be able to make some money from it
You know that jar you’ve shoved to the back of a drawer at home – the one full of pen lids, paper clips, old train tickets (why?) and foreign coins? Well, now might be the time to dig it out.
There is finally a way to make some hard cash out of our habitual hoarding as two men called Jeff Paterson and Oliver Du Toit have created a machine that accepts unwanted foreign currency and gives you pounds, dollars or euros in return.
The idea came from having “jar loads of leftover currency,” says Paterson. “Everybody was very keen to sell us the currency but weren’t keen to take back the bits that were left over”.
So in exchange for those Thai Baht that would almost certainly have never seen the light of day again, actual useful coins are dispensed, which we can spend on the weekly shop.
I went down to check out the first machine, up and running in King’s Cross tube station from Monday and soon to be rolled out across London. The technical glitches it was suffering didn’t stop around 50 people turning up in the morning and queuing – money bags in hand – to cash in their holiday leftovers.
Paterson says “the floods of people” took him by surprise on Monday. Unfortunately the machine’s location appeared to take the tube workers and RMT union by surprise too, on account of its proximity to a memorial to those killed by the 7/7 London bombings.
Paterson had a meeting with TFL this morning and they have put a sheet over the machine and will move it about 10 metres away from the memorial “out of respect” in the next week.
The crowds on Monday, however, were undeterred. Among them were twins Gemma Hall and Nadine Osman, who came from Croydon to use it. They have collected coins for around 20 years and have accumulated currency from more than 50 countries.
Gemma said: “When I heard about it on Twitter straight away I thought let’s see what we can get for them, even if it’s just a bit. We’ve been given the coins by friends who know we collect them and others are from our own trips, but they’ve just been lying under our beds. Some people think it’s geeky but we’re the ones laughing now.”
Thought to be the first of its kind, the machine uses image recognition technology to speedily sort coins and notes from more than 150 currencies. It also works as a bureau de change if you’re in need of some speedy euros.
The funding for Paterson and Du Toit’s company, Fourex, has largely come from winning Virgin Media’s Pitch to Rich competition, where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to Sir Richard Branson for the chance to win a start-up investment fund from him.
So how does it make money? “We make a margin on the exchange rate just like everybody else does,” explains Paterson. “But we can afford to charge a lesser exchange rate because we don’t have to staff it and our rental footprint is lower so we can pass those savings onto the customer.”
Fine, but what if you’re still hoarding old francs, lira and pesatas from those pre-euro holidays?
Actually that’s fine too, apparently. Even currencies no longer in circulation are accepted. According to Paterson, there is an estimated £1.7bn worth of old Spanish pesetas lying in people’s drawers. Perhaps there won’t be for much longer.
Daniel Howard showed me the bulging money sack he’d brought along. “There’s Colombian currency, Bolivian currency, Indian currency, Hong Kong dollars,” he said. “I’m between jobs at the moment so this will be very useful. So excited was I, I did a tot up and I think it’s worth about £50. It’s been at the back of a draw for about 10 years and you don’t need to hang onto loose change anymore – you can go more or less cashless on a weekend in Europe.”
Returned holidaymakers and business travellers may not be the only beneficiaries either. The machine is also expected to help the capital’s homeless and street performers, who are often given small denominations of foreign currency they cannot easily exchange.
Street performer James Tofalli was at King’s Cross for the machine’s opening with a bag full of foreign currency. He said: “I play the piano here in the station and I had about 30 different currencies – all coins I can’t use here [in Britain]. As soon as I saw the machine I was away to change my money.
“Being a street musician I work closely with homeless people who mostly get their coins in small foreign change. It will help so many people.”
But what about the charities that partly rely on funding from tourists who donate their loose change on their flights home? “There’s an option to donate part of their cash to charity in the machine,” says Paterson. “We’ve thought of that too.”
Fourex hopes to have another 400 machines in two years. Next Monday they are unveiling one in Blackfriars, two in Canary Wharf the following Monday and two in Westfield the Monday after that.
“We’ll learn a few lessons with these six, improve on them and then we’re going to be rolling out 10 a month next year,” says Paterson.
Which leaves only one question: why I felt the need to “use up” my last Cuban pesos on a souvenir statue of Che at the end of my summer holiday this year.