Uber announced last week that it was rolling out a new feature called Family Profiles in select cities, allowing family and friends to cover the cost of multiple user accounts with one debit or credit card. While the feature could be useful for U.S. users, it may matter more for the company's expansion efforts abroad.

Marie Hagman, senior product manager for Family Profiles, said in a statement that "although this feature is initially launching just in the U.S., we know that internationally people don't have credit cards at the same rate they do in the United States."

Uber has made huge investments -- and lost large sums of money -- over the past few years as it expands abroad. The company now operates in 400 cities worldwide compared with 100 at the start of 2014, and international business lost $237 million in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The emphasis of international business has been in China, where Uber has faced fierce competition from domestic ridesharing company Didi Kuaidi. Didi Kuaidi has a partnership with U.S. competitor Lyft. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said last year that 30 percent of Uber trips were taking place in China.

Forrester analyst Julie Ask notes that Uber's new multiple accounts feature "isn't unlike Apple's iTune service allowing x number of devices to play the music/video, Amazon allowing multiple Kindles on the same account, Netflix, etc." She says the move appears "easy to do," with "minimal downside risk."

Uber has emphasized the multiple accounts feature -- currently available in Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix -- as one that makes the service appealing to families. "We think this feature can be incredibly valuable for college students who are still financially dependent on their parents, as well as older adults on a fixed income who may rely on their children for mobility and financial support," said Hagman.

While the family-oriented language might seem to indicate Uber is trying to compete with "Uber for kids" services Shuddle and HopSkipDrive, which shuttle minors, a company spokesperson clarified that the new feature does not allow for minors to use the service. Users still need to be at least 18 years of age to have an Uber account.

Published on: Mar 22, 2016