Uber is trying to lure new drivers by offering bank accounts

The Uber campaign.
The Uber campaign.
Image: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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One of the biggest challenges Uber faces as it aggressively expands and fends off competitors is attracting—and then retaining—drivers. As part of those efforts, the ride-share startup is planning to offer banking services to drivers, according to people who work closely with financial institutions and Uber, as well as documents reviewed by Quartz.

The plan, which is in its early stages, would allow drivers to easily register for a bank account or prepaid card when signing up to work for Uber, according to the documents. By doing so, drivers can get paid the same day they work, compared to weekly now. Uber has reached out to potential partners to handle the banking itself, people familiar with the matter say. These people requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the project and ties to Uber.

According to the documents, Uber is exploring a few “value-added” services in addition to same-day payments: cash-back discounts, merchant offers, and the ability to send money internationally are all possibilities. The latter offering would clearly appeal to Uber’s many immigrant drivers.

The move underscores the fierce competition for drivers in the fast-growing ride-sharing industry. Uber needs a steady supply of drivers to meet customer demand without charging surge prices—a known turnoff for users. And it will also need a bigger fleet as it branches out into delivering food and retail goods. By providing not only jobs, but also banking services, Uber is hoping to increase driver loyalty.

The service has 1.1 million active global drivers, with more than 400,000 of those in the US, Uber board member David Plouffe said today (Nov. 3) at an event. But he added that half drive 10 hours a week or less. Beyond that, turnover is a significant issue, and Uber faces a plethora of competitors around the world—Lyft, Gett, and Sidecar in the US, India’s OlaCabs, and China’s Didi Kuadi, to name a few. These services all offer their drivers similar benefits, and none are known to have a particularly loyal fleet. Many drivers interviewed by Quartz said they drive for more than one service.

Uber has had a strained relationship with its drivers in the past. The company has been taking a bigger chunk of driver earnings, up to 30% in some markets. There’s also the question of whether Uber drivers are contractors, like the company alleges, or  full-time employees. If they are designated as full-time employees, Uber would owe them benefits like health insurance, the cost of which could threaten its business model. Uber’s currently involved in a class-action lawsuit in California over the issue.

As it’s grown, Uber has become more active in financial services. In July, Uber dumped Santander Bank as its preferred auto lender and launched a pilot program called Xchange Leasing. The financing arm is a subsidiary unit of Uber, and it purports to help connect low-and-no credit drivers to car dealerships that offer discounts and financing options.

The banking services plan focuses on the US for now, but Uber wants to expand it to other areas over time. Uber estimates it could see 4,000 to 5,000 signups per month in the US alone, a person with knowledge of the program says.

According to the documents Uber has been circulating to potential partners, up to 30% of new drivers in certain cities are used to working primarily with cash. In markets like China and India, where Uber faces especially stiff competition, letting drivers access banking services within the Uber app is one way to stand out.

Drivers who spoke to Quartz said they would welcome the banking services, especially same-day payments. One driver who spoke to Quartz said, if Uber paid drivers the same day, driving for it would “feel less like an actual job and more like a hobby. … I’d probably drive more, especially if I really needed cash that day.”

Uber is already highly dependent on having a robust, flexible fleet of drivers. But that need is only going to greater as it expands beyond its ride-sharing roots into merchandise delivery (UberRUSH) and food delivery (UberEats). On-demand delivery is a competitive market, with startups like Postmates growing fast and Amazon serving as the 800-pound gorilla. Having a stable of loyal drivers could give Uber the advantage it needs to succeed.