Jorge had been a delivery worker for several years when he started getting unprompted WhatsApp messages from DiDi — one of the apps he works for, and one of the most popular ride-hailing and delivery platforms in Mexico. DiDi offered him an immediate loan of up to 26,800 pesos (about $1,360), claiming in the WhatsApp message that the money would help “lighten [his] expenses.” DiDi promised he wouldn’t have to pay any interest for 10 days. Jorge, who did not share his full name with Rest of World because he feared getting in trouble with DiDi, did not apply; he had heard enough from other delivery workers to know better. “A friend of mine got a loan approved for 1,300 pesos [$66], missed a payment, and ended up with a debt of 2,600 [$130],” he told Rest of World.

Since launching in October 2021, DiDi has been one of the several delivery and ride-hailing platforms to offer an in-app loan service. Uber Eats has been doing so for at least two years, offering loans ranging from 2,000 pesos (around $100) to 15,000 pesos ($750) through push notifications, in-app ads, and WhatsApp messages. Lacking a steady income, and thus a good credit score, many of the estimated 350,000 to 500,000 app gig workers in Mexico may find it difficult to get loans from traditional financial institutions. Companies that depend on gig workers have spotted an opportunity to offer credit to their drivers, potentially opening up a new stream of income for them. 

Experts allege these loans appear to be debt traps in an environment where platforms have been struggling with gig worker retention. Rest of World spoke to more than a dozen delivery drivers, who said that these types of loans are not popular among gig workers and that they consider them to be too small to shoulder their high-risk interests. 

“We don’t recommend them [to our fellow drivers] because they end up in workers living in debt,” Saúl Gómez Piña, a delivery worker and spokesperson for the grassroots delivery workers’ organization Ni Un Repartidor Menos, told Rest of World.  

Gómez Piña said that when anyone enquires about these app loans on any of Ni Un Repartidor Menos’ WhatsApp groups, members are quick to warn against taking them. The organization claims it manages about 25 such WhatsApp groups nationwide and has over 4,000 members. Gómez Piña says he is not aware of anyone having received an in-app loan in the past months. 

Uber Eats , Rappi, and DiDi, Mexico’s biggest and most popular delivery apps, have published little information on how many of their gig workers have received loans and for what amounts. As to why delivery companies had opted to offer credit, Marisa Hurtado, senior communications manager of mobility and financial services for DiDi Mexico, told Rest of World that the company launched its in-app loan service to help the “DiDi community [their customers, as well as drivers and delivery workers] meet their financial needs.”

But, when asked, Hurtado did not say how many of these loans DiDi had given out to drivers and delivery workers since their service launched. Rest of World reached out to Uber Eats and Rappi with the same questions but received no response.

To determine workers’ creditworthiness, the companies have a large selection of data to work with. “We take into consideration [drivers and delivery workers’] behavior on the platform,” said Hurtado. Uber and Rappi do this too, José V. Fernández, CEO and founder of Bankuish, a company that analyzes data to determine gig workers’ creditworthiness for banks, similar to the way delivery apps do, claimed to Rest of World.

“I’d rather work harder to earn that than take out a loan, build up debt, and end up paying more.”

“It’s basically a tienda de raya,” Francisco Meré, former president of the Mexican Fintech Association and CEO of financial wellness company Uellbee, told Rest of World, noting the similarities between the app credit functions and the old company store system through which workers would buy basic staples using credit provided by the company itself, often binding them to work longer hours in case they were unable to pay. 

Alfredo García, who manages a support group on WhatsApp of over 400 of his fellow delivery workers, knows — from information provided by the apps and by talking to this peers — that some of the data taken into consideration for these loans includes how long each worker has worked on the app, how many deliveries they have completed, the score they have from customer ratings, how and when they log in to work, and their credit history, if they have one. “If your age is that of a college student and you only work on the weekends, you’re probably not going to be offered a loan because you’re not making enough to pay it off,” he told Rest of World. 

Information from 19 delivery people, including two administrators of large Whatsapp groups, collectively resulted in knowledge of only four people that had taken out a loan. Rest of World was unable to find a delivery worker who had taken out an in-app loan.

García claimed that the few members of his delivery workers’ WhatsApp group who had taken out a loan told him they’d ended up having to quit the app after being overwhelmed by the interest that the platform would automatically discount from their earnings. “You’re able to work,” he said. “But your debt accrues and you have to pay. Since the platform asks for your tax information, ID, and driving license, you cannot open another account there with that same information.” 

Maximilian Murck, general director of Tec-Check, essentially a nonprofit that doubles as a consumer watchdog, told Rest of World he is not surprised delivery people have turned against these loans. “This entire practice puts gig workers in a very disadvantaged position while they’re working,” he said. “The Mexican labor department should thoroughly look into these types of loans.”

Abder, who delivers on all three platforms and did not share his last name for fear of losing his work, told Rest of World the Uber Eats app tells him that the higher his rating as a delivery worker, the larger the amounts he gets offered, and the better the terms.

Abder has never taken out an app loan, despite working different jobs aside from delivering on Uber Eats to make a living. He said the fees were too steep for such small amounts. The smallest loan on Uber Eats is 2,000 pesos, about the same as the median weekly income of about 48 hours of work on the apps, according to a report co-authored by Oxfam Mexico. “I’d rather work harder to earn that than take out a loan, build up debt, and end up paying more,” Abder said.