Stripe Helps Mastercard, Visa Bring Speed to the Gig Economy

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The expanding base of contract workers who use mobile apps to set up jobs and receive payment is upending traditional payroll practices, requiring new levels of speed and efficiency from financial services companies.

"The 'sharing economy' is becoming an increasingly important part of the overall economy. It's here to stay," said Sherri Haymond, executive vice president of digital partnerships for Mastercard, which is partnering with Stripe to expedite payments to mobile contract workers.

Mastercard and Stripe's collaboration produced the Mastercard Send using Stripe instant payout feature, which contractors such as drivers, delivery people and errand runners use to move funds quickly. These workers would traditionally wait up to two weeks for payment, or a few days for an ACH transfer. But with Stripe, "someone can work and get paid in the same day," Haymond said.

Instantaneous payout will resonate with providers in the gig economy because this has been the norm before payments for these services as digitized, said Michelle Evans, an analyst covering mobile payments at Euromonitor International. "This tie-up speaks to the increased impact of the gig economy on our society as well as our culture's general desire for immediacy," she said.

Many of these workers might even see digital payments as a drawback, she said. "While the rise of digital has enabled these services to reach more consumers, long-standing providers of such service also have been saddled with processing fees and delayed payments for joining the digital economy."

The five-year old Stripe has its roots in easing e-commerce transitions for small companies through open technology. It has drawn attention from larger companies hoping to bake payment acceptance into larger business and marketing strategies, such as social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Under this collaboration, Mastercard Send transfers payments between businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and other senders to consumers or small merchants. The service is available in the U.S. initially, though Haymond said there are plans to scale globally.

The service is also available for Visa payments, said Lachy Groom, cards lead at Stripe. Visa announced availability via a blog posted to its website.

Visa has also noticed Stripe's utility, making an investment in the company to develop new mobile technology. The Visa investment should not impact the Mastercard collaboration with Stripe, both Haymond and Groom said.

Stripe's instant payout users include Postmates, Instacart, and iCracked. The ride-sharing service Lyft uses Stripe for its Express Pay feature, which allows drivers to quickly cash out their earnings rather than get paid in cycles. Other uses cases for quick payment include, which matches families to child care professionals; and goPanache, which uses the technology to pay barbers immediately at any time.

"Any marketplace that wants to keep up will have to offer this speed," Groom said. "It will become the standard because any contractor will know that another marketplace offers it."

Stripe has more recently added a 'buy button' that enables easier in-app purchases, and marked another step toward making the payment part of a broader experience rather than a separate activity.

The distinction matters in the so-called sharing or app economy, which relies on payments between employers and independent contractors happening almost automatically. While the retail payment establishment occasionally misreads the impact of the mobile car sharing service Uber, the app's disruption draws from its ease of use—payments happen invisibly in the background as part of the natural experience of ordering a car ride on a mobile app. That payments model has made Uber popular for collaborations with companies like Visa, Green Dot and Facebook.

The trend toward placing payments in the background of a mobile app also potentially changes the basis for competition in the card industry, as the battle to be the "top card" in a user's wallet gives way to being the "top app" on the user's smartphone.

And as the number of apps made for small contractors or freelancers expands, the pressure will also increase on payment companies to quickly move funds between parties.

"The sharing economy potentially turns each of us into buyers and sellers," said Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst at Celent. "I can rent my flat via AirBnB or sign up to do delivery runs. As various platforms and marketplaces compete to attract these sellers or service providers, accuracy and speed of getting paid are important considerations to them, which in turn puts pressure on the payment providers to deliver those capabilities."

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