If you fill up at Circle K or Maxol service stations or shop at a Spar then there's a good chance you're already familiar with some form of cash automation. The till drawer behind the counter has gone and been replaced with a secure cash recycling machine and while you still make note payments to the cashier, you drop coins into a machine that gives you your change and receipt.
These automated machines are a big improvement in cash handling for retailers, hospitality outlets and other businesses operating mainly in cash. They provide security, as staff no longer have access to the cash, they stamp out theft at the till and bring real time to the point of sale.
But clever as they are, they still have one crucial shortcoming: they don't fully close the cash loop, meaning retailers may have to wait up to a week for their takings to be credited to their bank account. But now Dublin-based fintech company Premium Cash Solutions (PCS) has stepped in to bridge the gap with a system that enables takings to be credited to retailers' accounts on the same day thereby mitigating risk and improving cash flow.
PCS was set up by Alan Condron and Aidan Comerford in 2015. Condron is an engineer by profession who ran his own recruitment business for the oil and gas industry in the Middle East before selling it and returning home to Ireland from Dubai seven years ago. Comerford is an accountant with a background in treasury and financial services.
Condron was already working on the idea for the business when a mutual friend introduced him to Comerford. Enterprise Ireland chipped in, first with feasibility study support and subsequently with high-potential start-up (HPSU) funding and the founders began developing out their platform. It now sits on top of existing cash-management machines and effectively "digitises" the cash within them, making it available to retailers with no time delay.
Their first step was to partner with a hardware provider and the company became the exclusive agents in Ireland for Gunnebo cash-management products. Gunnebo is a Swedish-based group with a global footprint in security products, services and software. "We take a feed from the Gunnebo hardware and our innovative fintech product sits on top and enables us to provide daily value for the retailer," Condron says.
“Our solution is agnostic to the hardware [so it can cross geographic and hardware boundaries] but we partnered with Gunnebo because of its reputation. We also needed to be able to offer our potential customers an end-to-end solution and had to undertake a lot of customer education as we were asking people to go from nothing to a fully integrated system that captures the cash at the point of sale and secures it right through the handling chain to collection, all in one go.”
At present, owner/managers either have to physically lodge their takings or pay for a security company to come and collect them. For SMEs this usually happens only once a week and there’s a delay while the cash is processed. Frequent pick-ups are a luxury most small businesses couldn’t afford so they have no option but to make regular trips to the bank with all that entails from a security risk perspective.
“In a fast-moving world businesses need access to their money quickly and cash on site is of little operational value to a retailer until it is banked,” Condron says. “Having identified this as a major gap in the cycle we looked at how we could use in-store cash-processing technology to effectively put the bank branch in the customer’s premises and give them savings on their current cost of handling cash as well as improving liquidity and reducing risk.
“In terms of how it works in practice it couldn’t be simpler,” he adds. “A retailer deposits cash into a smart safe device located on their premises which validates the cash, counts it and stores it securely. At close of business, PCS will then transfer the value of the day’s deposit to the retailer’s bank account. The cash, which is indemnified by PCS, is then securely held in the smart safe until collected by the cash-in-transit van.”
Condron says reports of the demise of cash as a primary payment method are wildly exaggerated. “Cash is certainly not dead and while its use is declining with some demographic groups, it’s still a hugely popular form of payment and that’s not about to change any time soon,” he says.
PCS makes its money by charging an all-inclusive fee that covers hardware, software, processing and pick-up charges. The fee is scaled based on the amount of cash being handled and in broad terms the cost works out much the same as regular lodgments at local banks. That said, won’t the banks resent PCS removing a source of income? “Not really,” Condron says. “Banks have been moving away from cash and cash handling and this type of solution is to the benefit of all involved in the cash cycle.”
PCS has a backer which is providing the cash resources that underpin the business but Condron will not be drawn on its name or on the level of funding being provided at this time. Investment in the business to date has been about €400,000, which includes HPSU funding, and the company has also been revenue-generating since 2016 when it made its first machine installation. The company employs five directly and five more on contract.
PCS has national contracts with Circle K and Maxol and is also providing its service to a range of other clients including McDonald's, Omniplex Cinemas, Paddy Power and Adare Manor. It is working with both company-owned sites and franchisees and Condron says one of the big advantages of the system for franchisees is that they don't have to be present at their premises every day to cash up as the cash is secure and can be remotely monitored by them.
“There is currently nothing available on the Irish or UK markets that’s equivalent to our end-to-end product. Some banks in the UK are offering provisional credit to their larger customers before the arrival of the cash at the bank but this is utilising the customers’ existing credit line. Our product is different as no security is required,” Condron says.
“Our aim was to integrate finance and technology to create early value for the retailer regardless of size. We can provide a range of cash-handling solutions to suit any size of business and automating cash processes also saves on time and administration and eradicates cash discrepancies.”