Uber is making a strong push into financial services. The company has announced the formation of a new division called Uber Money, which will include a digital wallet and upgraded debit and credit cards.
The emphasis will be expanding Uber’s efforts to give its 4 million-plus drivers and couriers around the world access to a mobile bank account so they can get paid after each ride, according to Peter Hazlehurst, who will head the new division.
“We wanted to help everybody understand that there’s a new part of Uber that’s focused on financial services and that has a mission of giving people access to the type of financial services they were excluded from,” says Hazlehurst.
Under pressure to turn a profit amid competition from new ride-sharing entrants around the world, Uber is betting that by building out its financial ecosystem, it can keep drivers and riders loyal to its platform. The company topped 100 million monthly active users this year. Many of them use credit cards to pay for rides and food orders. Future products could remove costs related to financial middlemen or generate new revenue streams.
Uber is also rolling out a global debit card with an enhanced “instant pay” service it has been testing in the US and a few other markets. The feature has taken off in the US with more than 70% of driver payments made using instant pay, according to Hazlehurst. It is essentially a no-fee banking account, with the debit card in the US linked to an account provided by Green Dot.
“Not only do you get access to your earnings in real time, it doesn’t cost you anything to keep the money there and you can spend it whenever you want to,” continues Hazlehurst.
These payment innovations highlight the reality that many in the gig economy are struggling to make ends meet. Another popular feature, no-cost $100 overdrafts, helps cash-strapped drivers pay for petrol to kick off a working day, a better alternative than high-interest payday loans.
Uber’s ambitions could bring drivers into the realm of digital finance in parts of the world where cash is still king, like Pakistan and Bangladesh. About 40% of all Uber trips globally are paid using paper currency and Uber is eager to bring that figure down.
After equipping drivers with electronic bank accounts — echoing the model of so-called challenger banks — would Uber one day look to provide its many millions of riders with an account, too?
“I think so,” says Hazlehurst. “The reality is that the needs of our partners in the US and in Brazil and in Australia and in India mirror in many ways the needs of consumers as well, particularly in the cash-heavy economies. And the opportunity that we have is to expand to help all of those people have access to financial services.”
One advantage Uber has over other new entrants into banking is its massive scale, which allows the company to negotiate better deals with vendors, he said. “We don’t have to take the traditional fee income model to operate these services,” Hazlehurst said.
Uber’s move is the latest sign that tech giants are looking to make inroads into finance. Apple recently launched a credit card with Goldman Sachs, and Amazon has been offering small business loans to its merchants for years. Facebook unveiled an ambitious plan this year to help remake global finance with its libra cryptocurrency, although that effort lost momentum after some corporate partners abandoned the project.
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