On Wednesday, the ride-sharing giant announced its new partnership with Betterment, an automated wealth manager. Starting today, drivers in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New Jersey can access Betterment's online platform, where they can sign up for either a traditional or Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account). They can subsequently add other taxable accounts to reach specific goals, for instance, to help save for a car of their own.
Drivers will also receive advice on their investments--at no additional cost. Based in New York City, Betterment manages a diversified portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for its more than 180,000 customers, and oversees roughly $5.5 billion worth of assets.
The new employee benefit program will be extended to all 400,000 drivers later this year through Uber's app, and at no additional cost for an entire year. Afterwards, drivers will pay the company's standard rates: 0.15 percent annually on accounts of $100,000 or more, and up to 0.35 percent on accounts with less than $10,000.
"It's the realization of a long-term dream," says Jon Stein, Betterment's founder and CEO. He says that the fintech startup can better enter new business models, by targeting different types of clients--thanks to the robust accounting software it developed. (Just last year, Betterment introduced a 401(k) program for small businesses, called Betterment for Business. It also sells its service to traditional wealth managers through a separate program, Betterment Institutional.)
"We are unique in our ability to leverage this core record keeping and accounting platform across multiple lines of business," said Stein.
It's worth pointing out that Uber was in conversation with several other companies in its plan to help drivers invest in IRAs, but ultimately went with Betterment because of its ability to quickly provide automated, personalized advice to customers.
"They wanted to be able to onboard tens of thousands of drivers rapidly," Stein said.
"It became very clear to us early on that Betterment shares our belief in customer obsession," said Rachel Holt, Uber's North America general manager, in a statement. "Betterment's sophisticated platform offers tremendous flexibility, low costs and fantastic customer support at scale -- and we're thrilled to offer people who drive with Uber this exclusive option."
A growing body of research suggests that consumers are shifting over from more traditional wealth managers to robo-advisers, which are typically less expensive. A record 36.4 million Americans are now using these firms to manage their money, according to a new report from Pro Financial Services.
The decision to partner with Betterment could also be an attempt to address concerns that Uber drivers are being treated unfairly. The deal comes just days after a San Francisco judge rejected Uber's $100 million settlement with a group of drivers in California and Massachusetts, who sued the company over being classified as independent contract workers, rather than as full-time employees. (The three-year lawsuit isn't the only one that Uber faces, though it could have the greatest financial consequences.)
Uber, for its part, says it works to introduce many of the benefits that its workers ask for. It lets them sign up for health care coverage through Stride Health, an online insurance broker, and has partnered with major cell phone carriers to provide discounts on phone bills. The partnership with Betterment, according to a company spokesperson, came after a number of workers asked for low-cost options to save for retirement.
Still, features billed as "benefits" for Uber drivers have ended up causing some workers more harm than good. Recently, Uber announced the launch of Xchange Leasing, a subsidiary that lets drivers lease a new midsize or economy car for $250 (not including a monthly insurance payment). The charge for approved drivers is automatically deducted from their earnings. Some auto-finance experts have suggested that the leases are expensive, and even predatory, compared with the options available to drivers with good credit.
"The terms, the way they're proposed, are predatory and are very much driven toward profiting off drivers rather than to facilitate an increase in drivers," said Mark Williams, a lecturer at Boston University's business school, in an interview with Bloomberg in May.
The cost to set up a retirement account with Betterment, and subsequently receive investment advice, by contrast, will not be deducted from the driver's earnings once the complementary year of service ends.