Date posted: 19/08/2019 3 min read

Making it in the gig economy: 5 things you need to know

The shift away from permanent, full-time employees to contractors and freelancers has been an ongoing evolution. Now enabled by new technologies, the gig economy presents exciting opportunities for the accounting profession.

In brief

  • Chartered Accountants are well positioned to excel in the digital focused gig-economy
  • Soft skills will remain key to building client relationships
  • Automation will see accountants skillsets change

Around the world we've seen a shift from traditional employment to the gig economy model, and there are no signs of it slowing. In the United Kingdom, the gig economy has more than five million workers and is projected to increase its worth from an estimated £0.4 billion in 2015 to £9 billion by 2025.[1] Closer to home, 7% of Australia workers are active in the gig economy, and in New Zealand 5% of workers are contractors.[2]

What does this mean for the accounting profession? What can accountants do to adapt and excel in this changing context? Here are five things you need to know ahead of the Gig economy trends and skills for digital savvy finance professionals session at the upcoming 2019 Accounting Conference in Auckland, NZ.

1. Look to the gig economy to futureproof your accounting skill set

As AI and automation continue to advance, the skill set of accountants needs to change as well, with accounting roles in the gig economy having a strong focus on strategy.

It's expected administrative and analytical tasks will be outsourced to software-as-a-service accounting systems, with clients leaning on accountants and finance professionals for their strategic thinking, monetisation, and management skills. [3].

2. Chartered Accountants are well positioned to succeed in the gig-economy

With less face-to-face communication needed, and finance professionals being considered as advisors, a trusted reputation and valuable experience can help one stand out in the gig economy.

"I think Chartered Accountants are well positioned in this regard," says Brad Seeto CA, partner of Bramelle Partners. "To become a CA you need to satisfy academic and employment requirements. You're also expected to observe professional and ethical standards."

As the former co-owner of SuitBids, Seeto reflects on the success of the online marketplace where professionals connect with potential clients and bid for work. "I think many consumers on SuitBids were attracted to working with accountants holding the CA qualification because they felt this verified the quality of the service they would receive," Seeto says.[4]

3. Uncertainty can create opportunity

Uncertain political or economic conditions can push organisations to convert roles from permanent to contract-based, in order to allow greater flexibility when responding to external forces. Situations like Brexit or the ongoing trade tensions between China and the United States have seen businesses more hesitant to take on permanent staff, instead electing for temporary contractors as they carry less risk, particularly in regard to redundancy costs.

While a contract or freelance position may not provide the level of security a permanent position can, it can provide finance professionals with the opportunity to develop new skills, work more flexibly and form new life-long contacts. [5]

4. Soft skills are key

Those best placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the gig economy are those with the necessary soft skills.

As the number of freelancers and contractors grows, so too does the need for accountants to assist them in running their business and finances. However, issues can often arise with gig workers uncertain of who to trust or unwilling to pay large costs for services. [6]

In these instances the presence of strong soft skills such as communication and the willingness to provide and receive constructive feedback has the potential to create positive and long-term relationships between gig workers and finance professionals.

5. Adopting a digital mindset is a necessity

David Lacire, Associate Director at Robert Walters New Zealand and guest speaker at the upcoming accounting conference asserts that as the gig economy is thriving due to advancements in technology, finance professionals need to be able to adapt to change and embrace the opportunities technology provides.

"Every company has a different way of working, being able to adapt quickly and add value is one of the reasons businesses will take on contractors," Lacire says. To succeed at this, one should have the ability to use and adapt to new technology, the behaviour to actively seek new opportunities and an attitude in which they encourage and enable others to see the future potential as well.[7]