Huntersville-based SafeDeposit, founded in 2016, offers managed cash services and smart-safe products for companies across the nation. The startup eliminates clients' traditional methods of counting, preparing and taking money to a bank to deposit.
Instead, it provides a smart safe for customers to log into and feed cash without the need to leave the store. The money is counted and validated throughout the day. Then, at a predetermined time, the safe sends a data file to SafeDeposit employees that displays how much money was retained in a 24-hour window. The startup also gives the business credit electronically the same day of the deposit.
SafeDeposit additionally offers armored-truck services, which launched in 2020. This was a complete game-changer for the startup, as it originally used vendors to transport cash, but now that service is fully in-house. The armored truck alleviates the need for risky business operations in cash-intensive businesses.
The startup provides cash-in-transit services only to businesses within the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. SafeDeposit uses a third-party vendor to do the pickups and deliveries in states outside of that footprint.
Chris Block, president and co-founder of SafeDeposit, had a banking career that spanned more than two decades. The other two leaders of the startup, Geoffrey Duke, CEO, and John Berube, director of SafeDeposit, were previously commercial clients of Block.
Berube is the founder of Millennium Payroll Solutions, also known as MPAY and based in Huntersville. Duke is CEO of MPAY. Block pitched SafeDeposit to them in 2015 since MPAY carried the same infrastructure needed to launch and expand the startup.
The trio has used their diverse backgrounds over the past six years to help grow and enhance SafeDeposit's services. Duke and Block spoke with CBJ recently to discuss more of what the company offers, its recent growth and what's ahead for the startup.
The following is a condensed version of the discussion, edited for brevity and clarity.
What role does SafeDeposit's armored-truck service play?Block: So taking what we do now, our service is full circle, so the money stays in the smart safe and then typically once a week an armored car comes around and pulls the money out of the safe and delivers the store change order. So if they're not having to go to the bank to make deposits, they might as well be able to have change orders delivered as well so they can completely avoid having to go to the bank branch. The armored-car piece where they come around typically once a week is a necessary part of our process. In North Carolina, we had a very large concentration of clients, partly by coincidence and partly because we have a lot of contacts in this data force. Our vendor at the time was having some issues with reliability and we just were kind of at the point where we had to do something to give our clients the service they deserve. So we launched the armored-car side of the company. Instead of having to use a vendor for the armored-car pickups, and we change our deliveries, we just brought that in-house and started providing that service with our own vehicles and our own personnel.
How is SafeDeposit an asset to the cash-transportation industry?Block: The base service, cash-in-transit, is similar kind of in its base form. We're not the only company that provides a smart-safe service with provisional credit. We started the company because the product delivery was, in our minds, very poor across the board through the traditional delivery model. So we launched SafeDeposit to improve upon what was a really promising industry. And that same mentality carries over to the armored-car side. So it's still transporting cash and safe keeping cash. But you know, we show up when we're supposed to. We're on time. Our team is professional and courteous. We just tried to do what the industry does, but provide a higher level of service and competency.
How important is Safe Deposit's cash-transport services for your clients?Block: I think the bulk of our clients we talk to, they tell you it's of the utmost importance. The biggest concern and I guess the most important reason for having our services is employee safety. So keeping the employees in the store where they're not having to take cash to the bank, and not being put in harm's way. They're in the store where they belong, where they can serve clients and work with their fellow employees. That's the most important piece to them. They get a lot of the benefits like accelerated cash flow and there's a lot of benefits of the service, but it's the ones that put a premium on employee safety that will see the most benefit.
Your leadership team has extensive backgrounds in financial services and software. How did you all mesh your backgrounds in order to successfully form Safe Deposit?Duke: I think it comes down to John, who really knows how to develop financially related software. John and I own a payroll service bureau. We develop our own software for that. So we know how to do the banking transactions and we know how to keep track of all the money and where it is. John is the big software piece of it. Chris is really sales and customer relationships. And then I'm more of the administrative, operational guy behind the scenes. Most of the staff is operational and more actually going out and picking up the money and dealing with the bank and the bank transactions and making sure people get their change orders. And if something goes wrong, we have people that really take care of the details. So that's kind of how we complement each other. We're not all salespeople. We're not all software people. It's kind of a balance. That's probably the hardest thing to find in a business is getting that right balance and making sure we have the right people doing the right things. And that's what really makes the client happy.
What are the businesses that benefit the most from SafeDeposit's offerings?Block: The vast majority of our client portfolio is quick-serve restaurants, convenience store chains, and in North Carolina we're building out quite a base of the ABC liquor stores. But across the country, it's mainly quick-serve restaurants and convenience stores, and we have a pretty diverse client set. We have a lot of other industries like mobile retail. But by and large, quick-serve and c-stores.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity for Safe Deposit moving forward?Duke: I think we do have a small presence in the municipality market, and I see that as a huge growth potential going down the road as well as financial institutions. We've started working with some of the smaller financial institutions. They're underserved from the general industry, so I think that's where the opportunity (is) for us to go into some of these small and medium-sized businesses and service them better than what they're getting now. And so I think we've definitely established ourselves, as Chris was saying, in the convenience store industry, in the fast-food industry. And the state-run liquor boards — we've definitely established ourselves there, and I think the opportunity going forward is to kind of expand to serving public municipalities, townships and financial institutions.
Any specific growth plans in the Charlotte area?Block: Mecklenburg County government — they have many sites across the county that rely on cash and transit multiple times per week. We're seeing that they're not getting the service or reliability that they deserve. And they found out that we existed. Once that process started, they heard some things about Safe Deposit, and we quickly were able to acquire all of that business. Yes, locally it's growing on the demand-of-service side with the smart safe and cash-in-transit side, but just to see the cash-in-transit-only piece grow simply because we're here and we're an option for them has been really fun to watch.
What's next for Safe Deposit as we head into the new year?Duke: We could be starting a more traditional courier service. We've been licensed for that. Instead of picking up valuables like money, we can be picking up legal documents or real estate documents that have a real important timeline to be executed and delivered from one place to the next. There's still a lot of that that goes on. Or highly regulated items such as prescriptions. We need to be branching into those areas. There's different types of valuables, not necessarily currencies. That might be something that we expand into in the future. In 2023, we're really looking to add to the client base and obviously employ more people. I think people will see our trucks more in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area everybody's always talking about as we expand. Because it's definitely morphed from what we originally thought we would be doing, which was just managing our safe and having vendors go out. Now, we're actually doing 100% of that service.
By Symone Graham - Staff Writer