While Uber is now a household name synonymous with ridesharing, the company’s ambition doesn’t end there.
In June, Uber announced plans to accelerate the growth of their sideline business in financial products. The company plans to open a new office in New York and hire an entirely new roster of employees to manage their burgeoning financial technology (fintech) operations. Uber isn’t alone; Amazon is also forging relationships in the banking and payments industries.
In fact, other brands associated with the gig economy and digital marketplace are increasingly exploring payments as an avenue for expansion, obviously seeing substantial opportunity in the fintech space. While they may not be immediately apparent to outside observers, moving into fintech is a prudent endeavor.
Uber says it is interested in helping its network of independent contractors manage earnings. This may be a positive move, given short-term independent contractors will make up nearly 20 percent of the full-time U.S. labor force by 2020. However, very few traditional financial institutions render services that gel with the financial needs of this growing body of workers.
Uber already has a program in place to help contractors access an individual retirement account or Roth IRA. The company is well-positioned to extend further financial services to drivers, especially if drivers are eventually classified as more traditional employees.
Building out proprietary fintech products won’t be cheap. Nevertheless, the company considers it an investment that will ultimately pay off. Integrated payments would eliminate the middleman, cutting out payment processors, gateways and other parties involved in the traditional payments process. This would save the company hundreds of millions of dollars each year in processing fees; in 2017 alone, Uber’s outlay for credit card processing was $749 million.
Will Consumers Benefit?
Moves in the fintech space made by Uber and other big names raise an important question: Will this market trend benefit consumers? The answer is too complex to say yes or no with real confidence. It depends on how businesses deploy fintech tools.
Amazon tailoring transactions to the consumer’s needs is welcomed progress. Simplifying the payments process by allowing consumers to shop and make purchases within Amazon’s curated environment presents opportunities for the company and consumers alike. Buyers could enjoy smoother transactions, accurate product recommendations and greater customization of the customer experience. As a result, Amazon would see higher sales and the improvement of generated customer data.
The main challenge to overcome is consumer skepticism. While American consumers love convenience, they’re not willing to hand over as much data as required to provide the level of experience outlined.
Yet, it seems the industry is moving in this direction. In the European Union (EU), for instance, the newly-revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) relaxes financial regulations and opens the payments industry to a variety of third parties. Amazon, Facebook, Google and several other players may soon operate as Payment Initiation Service Providers (PISPs).
This leaves more questions. How do chargebacks work with a PISP? How effectively can we manage fraud?
Clarification Needed on Fraud Prevention and Security
Despite the great opportunities fintech presents, we need to deploy technologies responsibly. If giant brands want to build up a presence in this space, they need the ability to secure massive amounts of customer data.
Players like Amazon and Google shouldn’t have a problem pulling this off since data storage is already among their primary business functions. It might require more effort for other companies like Uber, but Amazon’s example demonstrates that it’s clearly possible to do.
Beyond the technological demands of storing and securing incredible volumes of information, there’s also policy dimension. The “move fast and break things” approach was great when these companies were still upstarts. Today, they’re the institutional giants and can’t afford to move with the same degree of agility.
Consumer Trust is Key
Consumers need to trust these companies, but the companies must first demonstrate they’re worthy of that level of trust. Unfortunately, consumer faith in giant tech firms is not at a high point right now. Perhaps companies can resolve this disconnect by providing greater security technologies to consumers. For example, Uber could give customers some assurance that they’ll be able to recover their funds in the event of abuse. Even if chargeback regulations may not apply directly, consumer protection should be the primary concern.
Established tech giants can easily gravitate toward the fintech space. Whether they’ll be successful depends on whether they can earn consumer confidence.