Uber has plans to put cash in the pockets of some drivers before they even take their first trip via a new program called Advance Pay, the company announced via a blog post on Thursday.
Uber will offer new drivers in California and Michigan cash advances of up to $1,000, via a partnership with the financial services startup Clearbanc. Some drivers — which ones is at Clearbanc’s discretion — may be able to get up to 25% of that amount before they even start driving.
Clearbanc will determine how much money drivers get, and front the cash. The startup, which is not a licensed bank, won’t charge interest. Borrowers have 15 weeks to pay the money back, or they will be subject to a $50 fee.
The point of the cash advance is to get people who are contemplating signing up for Uber to take the plunge. Clearbanc CEO Andrew D’Souza told BuzzFeed News the cash could help cover startup costs like insurance, repairs, detailing a car, or covering the gap between the last paycheck from an old job and the first one from Uber.
Once drivers hit the road, they'll start paying Clearbanc back through automatic deductions from their earnings. The rate of those deductions, which can't exceed 50%, is fixed and will be set by Clearbanc. That means that if a driver agrees to repay the advance with 25% of their earnings when they start, that driver can’t later ask for those deductions to be stopped or lowered.
Clearbanc is not a licensed bank, but works with banking partners. It doesn’t use FICO scores to determine eligibility of drivers for the cash advance, but D’Souza declined to explain how the company will determine whether or not to give someone an advance. “We’ve developed a risk model to determine folks who are fraudulent or at risk of electing not to pay it back,” D’Souza told BuzzFeed News. “But we can’t really disclose details about risk factors.”
Though Clearbanc won’t send debt collectors after drivers who default, D’Souza says the company does have “some recourse” if the drivers intentionally misrepresent their intention to actually drive for Uber.
As Uber scales and the company matures, driver churn — the number of drivers who quit the platform — will be a growing problem for the company, the New York Times reported in February. While Uber’s cash advance program is explicitly about enticing new drivers, being financially beholden to the company or one of its partners could encourage drivers who would otherwise have bailed to stick with the platform for longer.
Uber has experimented with a number of partnerships that offer financial products and services to its drivers. Although Uber’s auto financing partnership with the bank Santander ended in July, would-be drivers still have options for financing new vehicles via Uber. The company is exploring the possibility of providing drivers with bank accounts, Quartz reported in November. And in March, Uber launched Instant Pay for drivers in San Francisco. That program, which includes an Uber Debit Card, operates via a partnership with GoBank.
Clearbanc has offered same-day pay to Uber drivers and other independent contractors since its launch in fall 2015. Other startups, including Activehours, also offer similar solutions. D’Souza said he hopes alluring products like same-day pay and cash advances will help Clearbanc scale quickly.
As independent contractors, Uber drivers have a harder time accessing loans than people who are regular employees. Even high earners who are contractors can have a hard time getting mortgage loans. So providing drivers with access to financial services tailored to them makes sense, and prevents them from turning to options like payday loans with exorbitantly high interest rates. But Advance Pay, which is supposed to give drivers more flexibility, could also end up tethering them to the platform.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O'Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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