While it is weighing providing benefits and insurance to its independent contractor drivers, ridesharing giant Uber is not interested in getting into the insurance business itself.
Rather, the global transportation firm is content to focus on being an “intelligent purchaser” of insurance, continuing to work with insurance carriers and brokers on any insurance for its independent contractor drivers.
“No, to be honest, we’re trying to get out of the insurance business,” Curtis Scott, global head of insurance for Uber, said at the Insuretech Connect Conference (ITC) earlier this month in Las Vegas.
Citing reports of other tech firms including Amazon showing an interest in insurance, he said Uber is not among those eyeing the business. “I can tell you that Uber doesn’t have a desire to. We are good at being a tech company that’s in logistics, and we want to do that. That’s what we’re strong at.
“Insurance companies are good at being insurance companies, and that’s hard to do,” he added.
Scott’s comments came a week after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the Salesforce conference in San Francisco that Uber is considering providing benefits and insurance to its drivers in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
CEO Khosrowshahi cautiously broached the topic of insurance at the San Francisco conference. “I’d like to come up with a system where we can provide benefits with our driver partners if it’s something that can work in the ecosystem. Right now, it’s delicate going,” he told the Salesforce audience.
Also, in July, curiosity about Uber getting into insurance picked up after Insurance Journal asked the senior risk manager for Uber, Brad Nail, whether Uber was interested in getting into insurance. At that time, Nail did not reject the idea. Instead, he replied, “Ask me in a few months.” That exchange occurred during a panel on autonomous vehicles at the Super Regional P/C Insurance Conference.
As a panelist addressing the gig economy at the ITC, Scott said Uber wants to work with insurers, not be an insurer.
“My goal is to be the most intelligent purchaser of insurance and advocate in the creation of good insurance products. I think that’s really my team’s goal,” he said, adding that this includes “providing a feedback loop” so Uber can improve safety and learn when something goes wrong.
He said Uber is happy to share data and knowledge with insurers to help them better underwrite for its drivers.
Uber has partnered with insurers including Allstate, Farmers, James River Insurance and Progressive to develop coverage for its drivers that supplements their personal auto policies that do not cover commercial use. Under these commercial insurance policies, Uber drivers are covered from the moment they turn on the rideshare app until the trip ends. There is also protection for riders during an Uber trip. Drivers pay the premium.
Various insurers including GEICO, Slice, State Farm, American Family, Liberty Mutual, Mapfre, Mercury, Erie, Travelers and MetLife have come out with their own insurance policies for drivers.
Scott had some advice for insurers that might be looking to do business with his firm. He is interested in insurers that “really want to solve a problem” and that have “people who really understand it from every angle.” He is not interested in working with firms he calls “vampires” that just want to come onboard because Uber is “cool and they think that they want to be cool too.” These are firms that “walk in the door with no solutions and then say, ‘Give me all your data.” And I’m like, ‘Dude, we’re a tech company. We know the value of this; it’s not going to happen. We didn’t just get here yesterday.'”
He advised insurers to offer products that do the things they are supposed to do well and “avoid the bells and whistles.”
Uber has been careful to maintain an independent contractor relationship with its drivers, as opposed to an employee relationship where it would provide benefits and pay for insurance or other expenses. The company has been successful thus far in fighting off legal attempts to have it treat its drivers in the U.S. as employees.
However, in May, Uber announced a benefits package with AXA for drivers in Europe. The insurance coverage includes sickness, injury, and maternity and paternity payments for drivers when they are on and off the Uber app. The benefit is funded by Uber at no cost to drivers and delivery partners.
Speakers on the ITC panel called for changes in benefits and tax laws to encourage more portability of insurance and benefits for people who are moving in and out of the gig economy as employers, employees and independent contractors.
“People covet the flexibility, but it won’t work unless we replace the benefits. It won’t work unless we create a system that makes it possible, and I think [that’s] what you’re going to see happen,” said Noah Lang, the CEO and co-founder of Stride Health, a benefits platform used by gig workers including some Uber drivers.
“We have to adapt and create benefits that are for the new world where people are going, and that’s important because they’re not trends, they are actually human desires,” Uber’s Scott said.
In January, Uber expressed support for efforts in the state of Washington to make benefits and insurance more accessible and portable to independent contractors. In an open letter to the state’s business, labor and government leaders, Uber CEO Khosrowshahi wrote that the “American social safety system, which was designed in the 20th century for a very different economy, has not kept pace with today’s workforce” and called for a new social contract.
“We firmly believe that renewing the social contract is both urgent and important,” he wrote. “We acknowledge that developing a first-of-its-kind scheme will involve business impacts, implications for worker and consumer protection, complexity in market design and regulatory framework, and the need for prudential standards.”