Walking into a store and demanding cash from the register usually ends badly for all concerned -- but an app called Spare replaces a stocking mask and a sawn-off when you want to withdraw cash straight from the till of any shop.
Phones are increasingly muscling in on the stuff you'd previously need your wallet for. Mobile-payment services like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay come built-in on phones, and apps like LoopPay, Paym and Square let consumers and businesses use mobile devices for quick and easy transactions.
Spare, developed by startup Mercuri Systems, is designed to make cash available to tourists and other people who can't use an ATM. It also gives locals an extra option if they want to avoid ATM fees or potential theft by cash machine skimmers.
How does Spare work? Fire up the app and request the amount of cash you want. Your GPS directs you to the nearest shop registered with the app, where you show the shopkeep a onetime PIN generated by the app. The shopkeep then opens up the till, pulls out the requested amount of cash and hands it over. You then go your merry way armed with a fistful of cash -- just don't spend it all at once, OK?
I met Spare founder D'ontra Hughes at 4 Years From Now, a startup showcase held alongside tech trade show Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Check out our photo gallery to meet more of the interesting, exciting or just plain weird startups also at the event.
Hughes got the idea for Spare when he was working in a hotel bar and kept having to send customers out of the hotel and across the street to an ATM if they wanted to get cash. Aimed at hotels in its early days, Spare is now looking to sign up various types of small businesses.
It's still in the very early days, so Spare is limited in reach as yet. After a beta test, the app has been available for four months and has yet to push out to retailers on a wider basis. But on Spare's home turf of Southern California there are already 1,200 customers signed up and 150 merchants willing to put their money where your mouth is.
Behind the scenes the money is transferred from your bank account, via Spare, to the merchant. The principle is similar to cash-back, only with a phone instead of a bank card.
What's in it for the merchants? The main thing is increased footfall, bringing tourists into the store.
And if they want to see some coin as well, merchants have the option to add a fee to the transaction, whether it's a flat fee or a percentage of the amount you're withdrawing. Depending on the merchant, the fee could be less than an ATM charge, especially when you're in a foreign country and your card would incur a higher charge -- if you can use it at all.