By GRAHAM HICKS
At your local bottle depot, or coming soon, is an automated payment system for your empties.
Sorting and counting bottles remains a manual operation. But the worker keeps track on a screen that you can see. When he or she is done, a credit-card sized piece of plastic is handed to you … in which is embedded your refund.
You mosey over to an ATM-like machine, but much bigger with a giant screen. The inserted plastic is read, the amount comes up on the screen. Out pops your cash … and the plastic card stays behind to be wiped and re-used.
This is a major innovation in the field of “money processing.” It’s just the start and Edmonton-based Rapid Cash is leading the charge.
“Think of what cellphones were capable of 10 years ago,” says Rapid Cash’s president and GM Bill Eaton. “And think of what smartphones can do today. That’s where we’re going with money processing.”
Rapid Cash had a good reputation as an ATM contractor, servicing and fixing “white label” (i.e. non-bank affiliated) ATMs across Canada.
But Eaton was restless. He envisioned a money-dispensing machine that could do much more. “As a business owner, you’re always marginally paranoid,” says Eaton. “One eye looking forward, one looking backward. Innovation has to lead the way.”
A regional pay-day lender provided Eaton with his eureka moment. How about an ATM kiosk that could tie into his stores’ computers, the storekeeper suggested, that could dispense cash as a loan, keep track of individual loans?
Hmmm, said Eaton, I think Rapid Cash could do that.
Rapid Cash worked with ATM manufacturers on the hardware side, developing an ATM-like cash dispensing “kiosk” with new features, such as the bigger screens.
It is in software programming that Rapid Cash is breaking new ground.
Eaton’s team is using its expertise to turn the lowly ATM brain into a sophisticated, powerful consumer-friendly transaction machine. The work is ground-breaking. Rapid Cash has American patents pending on at least four of its software applications.
The specialty cash-refund machine developed for the Alberta Bottle Depot Association’s 223 members is a prime example. In the bottle depots, as in the pay-day lender business, such automation can replace at least one live employee — a trend undeniably hastened, says Eaton, when the New Democrat government raised Alberta’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The machines make robbery near impossible, and sophisticated record keeping can easily detect internal fraud. If the bottle depot’s transaction records don’t match up with the actual bottles returned, the owner knows something is wrong.
Such kiosks will handle cellphone account top-ups, money transfers, crypto-currencies and dozens of other current customer-to-clerk transactions. It will provide superior security through automated photo ID comparisons and government ID scanners. “The standard ATMs,” says Eaton, “don’t have the horsepower or the IQ to perform at this level.”
Why is there demand for these enhanced ATM-plus kiosks, when so many money-processing functions are already happening through smart-phones and home computers?
Eaton answers simply and directly. The “under-banked” portion of the population, those living from paycheque to paycheque, need banking services and processes. The big banks aren’t interested.
Rapid Cash is looking at strategic growth opportunities. “No missteps so far,” says Eaton, sitting in his modest office in a nondescript 10,000-sq.-ft. building in the city’s northwest. “We buy bigger shoes and grow into them.”
In 10 years, Eaton intends to increase Rapid Cash sales tenfold from the current $5- to $10-million per year. The Rapid Cash team is working internationally. A Vietnamese bank, for instance, came to Rapid Cash looking for kiosk banking solutions unique to that country.
Vegas is watching. Rapid Cash kiosks designed for casinos are being tested in the River Cree Casino.
“Edmonton has a surprisingly strong fin-tech (financial technology) sector thanks to Servus, ATB Financial, CWB, AIMCO and pension funds,” says Deloitte business advisor Jason Ding. “Rapid Cash is part of that ecosystem, a very cool fin-tech company that has been flying under the radar.
“Payment processing is a complex, highly regulated business,” Ding points out. “Rapid Cash has made it through the initial hurdles. It has big potential.”