Uber earlier this month was reported to be adding financial services to its ride-hailing business and that it was hiring engineers with finance experience in New York City.
But the move may have less to do with entering a new market than trying to maintain its dominant position as competition intensifies globally.
In the U.S., Uber is the biggest of the two, with 69% of ride-sharing spending in April, while Lyft accounted for 29%, according to Second Measure.
Lyft’s growth has outpaced Uber: Lyft’s first-quarter revenue nearly doubled to $776 million, while Uber’s gained 20% to $3.1 billion. Both companies lost more than $1 billion and are seeking ways to cut losses.
For Uber, turning a profit may not be tops on its list.
“The more critical near-term objective [for Uber] is driving loyalty and stickiness,” Tom White, a senior vice president and senior research analyst at DA Davidson, told Karma.
“Uber is making the calculation that it needs to improve and increase loyalty of both riders and drivers, and one of the ways to do that is through payments or financial services,” White said. “Loyalty will enable Uber and Lyft to stop having to spend all this money on incentives to bring drivers and riders back to the platform.”
Despite its investments in driverless cars, Uber is locked in near-term competition with Lyft for drivers in the gig economy, many of whom lack steady paychecks and benefits. Some are underserved by traditional financial services and lack access to credit.
They see expanding services as a way to draw workers and customers alike, and this latest string of hires is likely to build on those efforts.
Lyft offers drivers a debit card and a no-fee bank account. Uber offers leasing for drivers and partnered with Betterment to help its drivers and food deliverers access IRAs. It also has a branded credit card and an in-app account to pay for rides or food orders through its Eats service.
“We believe bundling creates a source of competitive advantage for mobility companies, allowing them to scale more quickly and maintain user engagement,” said Asad Hussain, an emerging technology analyst at PitchBook.
Globally, Uber faces even stiffer competition, as many of its rivals already offer payment services — including India’s Ola, Indonesia’s Go-Jek, and Malaysia’s Grab. As it looks to expand in those markets, adding payment services may be a prerequisite.
“In some countries, ride-hailing firms must provide payment services in order to tap into the large numbers of people who don’t have credit cards or bank accounts,” Shauna Brail, an associate professor at Innis college who studies ride-sharing and its impact on cities, told Karma.
In short, fintech companies should be less worried about this latest move by Uber than its more traditional competitors in ride-sharing.
Tech companies in many sectors have expanded into pay services, including Apple, Facebook and Google. While Uber may be a big player in its sector, it would face “an uphill battle” trying to contend with established fintech players, Dan Ives, a managing director and equity analyst covering the tech sector at Wedbush, told Karma.
“I’d be more worried about the likes of Facebook, Amazon and others,” Ives said. “When you’re talking about 2 billion users, that’s when you get worried. [Uber’s] 90 million does not shake me in the boots.”