A lot of companies want to be the Uber of banking and payments. It's starting to look like Uber itself wants that role as well.
The popular ride-sharing service announced a partnership Thursday with the prepaid card issuer Green Dot that will allow its drivers to get paid instantly, rather than waiting for a weekly check to arrive.
The service, called Instant Pay, should help Uber Technologies to better compete with Lyft, a rival app-based taxi service that started offering real-time payments to its drivers in December.
The offerings from Uber and Lyft demonstrate that the so-called gig economy, in which workers set their own schedules, is challenging long-standing assumptions inside the payments system. Uber drivers typically receive weekly paychecks on Thursdays for work they did three to 10 days earlier and have been clamoring to receive faster access to their funds.
"Drivers say they'd like to have the flexibility to decide when to get paid," Wayne Ting, Uber's general manager for the Bay Area, wrote in a blog post Thursday.
The partnership also comes as banks and fintech firms explore ways to speed up the movement of money in the U.S. with the firm encouragement of the Federal Reserve, which sees faster payments as a social good.
The options from Uber and Lyft vary, and both have pluses and minuses.
Lyft, of San Francisco, does not require its drivers to establish new bank accounts, but it does charge them 50 cents for each cash transfer. In addition, Lyft's drivers have to wait until they have earned at least $50 before they can use the firm's Express Pay service.
Uber drivers who want their earnings right away will have to sign up for a bank account through Green Dot's GoBank.
The accounts cost $8.95 per month, but that fee can be waived under some circumstances. Each cash transfer is free, and there is no minimum amount that can be transferred.
For now, Uber's Instant Pay is available only in its hometown of San Francisco and a handful of other unnamed cities. An Uber spokeswoman said that a wider rollout is being planned, but she declined to provide details.
The Uber partnership represents a potential new source of revenue for Green Dot. GoBank, a three-year-old mobile-based checking account, has fallen short of enrollment targets set by the company.
Uber and Green Dot did not release projections on how many drivers are expected to sign up for the service; Uber has more than 400,000 U.S. drivers who have made at least four trips in the past month. Lyft said that about 35% of its drivers have used Express Pay since its launch four months ago.
The fees charged to Uber drivers are similar to those paid by other GoBank customers. The accounts do not carry overdraft fees. Cash withdrawals are free at more than 42,000 ATMs across the country, while transactions at other ATMs carry a $2.50 fee.
For Green Dot, one advantage of the partnership is that Uber drivers will be classified as small-business customers. That means Green Dot will receive slightly higher interchange fees than it does on consumer checking accounts, according to Steve Streit, the Pasadena, Calif., company's chief executive.
The Uber partnership gives Green Dot a foot in the door with workers in the fast-growing gig economy, Streit added. "We actually passed up other opportunities so that we could launch with Uber."
Financial terms and the length of the deal between Uber and Green Dot were not disclosed.
The need to open a new checking account could dissuade some Uber drivers from using Instant Pay, said Larry Berlin, an analyst at First Analysis.
"If you're an Uber driver, and you already have a bank account, this may or may not be of value to you," he said.
Uber has long been focused on making payments more efficient, though until now most of the firm's efforts have centered on payments made by its riders. Indeed, it seems likely that the runaway success of Uber's mobile app is partially a result of how easy it is for customers to pay for rides.
The firm's consumer-focused payment innovations continue. Uber recently started allowing U.S. riders to order and pay for rides from within the Facebook Messenger chat app.