Uber-Betterment Collaboration Draws in 2,500 Retirement Savers

By Madison Alder

More than 2,500 Uber drivers used Betterment, an online financial advice service, to get on the road to retirement in the first year of the ride-share giant’s collaboration with the robo-adviser.

“If you look at the market, the amount of people who have used the service is in line with what we’d expected” when the companies announced their partnership one year ago, Joe Ziemer, Betterment’s vice president of communications, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 25.

The conversation about workers in the freelance—or “gig"—economy has grown over the past several years as more Americans pick up odd jobs through the use of new technology. Uber’s attempt at providing a benefit-like program for retirement saving is reflective of a broader trend in the gig economy toward offering benefits to independent contractors. Whether in a unionization attempt or a push for benefits legislation, many workers are wanting more from their gig jobs.

The Betterment offer was originally rolled out to Uber drivers in four cities—Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle—but was extended to all drivers in the U.S. over the past year, Ziemer said. There are currently an estimated 600,000 Uber drivers nationwide, he said.

“We heard from a few different drivers who were really excited to save for retirement,” Ziemer said. Those drivers, he said, cover the spectrum for retirement savings—from younger customers just starting to put away money to older customers consolidating their funds through the online service.

Drivers sign up for Betterment by accessing the service through the Uber app, he said. They are encouraged to sign up for individual retirement accounts and are eligible for a “special pricing package” through Uber.

“Everyone knows they should be saving more, but almost nobody knows how to save,” Ziemer said. Betterment helps keep people on track while they save so they don’t get behind, and it provides “guidance and advice as well on how to save,” he said.

Some Drivers Skeptical

Uber drivers who chose not to use Betterment, however, said Uber should have helped drive down the cost to make the offer more competitive.

“It sounds cool on the surface, but a lot of drivers don’t have the money to contribute to a retirement account,” Harry Campbell, a Los Angeles Uber driver who runs a blog titled “The Rideshare Guy,” told Bloomberg BNA.

The partnership with Betterment may have been “more of PR than actual partnership,” Campbell said. “I haven’t heard of anyone using this.”

A gig-economy company where workers are more likely to have another source of income might have been a better choice for this kind of partnership, he said.

There are, however, partnerships that are useful to Uber drivers, Campbell said. Partnerships with Stride Drive—a mileage tracker app—and QuickBooks Self-Employed—a tax filing system for independent workers—are examples of Uber’s useful partnerships, Campbell said.

Other drivers echoed Campbell in response to a Bloomberg BNA post in the chat room UberPeople, saying the partnership with Betterment didn’t offer anything that other companies don’t already provide. Vanguard and Fidelity are better options for drivers, according to those who responded.

One out of 10 total respondents said they were currently using services through Betterment in a poll posted to the same site. Two respondents said the didn’t need to save for retirement, three said they weren’t saving because they hadn’t found a method that worked for them, and four said they weren’t using Betterment but were saving by different means.

Uber didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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