insight magazine

Gigging It in Accounting and Finance

By breaking traditional molds, accounting and finance firms can leverage the gig economy for growth — and a competitive staffing edge. By BRIDGET MCCREA | Summer 2018


Whether working part-time, operating remotely project-by-project, or serving on interim or contingency terms, a “new” flock of skilled financial services professionals — they actually span all generations — is making an impact in the accounting and finance profession. Enter the gig accountant, gig advisor, gig auditor, gig CFO, gig controller, etcetera, etcetera.

There isn’t a corner of the business world that hasn’t somehow been touched by the rise of the gig economy, a movement characterized by the prevalence of freelance, part-time, and/or contract workers who willingly opt out of “permanent jobs” in favor of flexible work arrangements that enable them to earn well while living well — i.e., on their terms.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States — or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population — engage in some form of independent work.

“Free agents reported higher levels of satisfaction in multiple dimensions of their work lives than those holding traditional jobs by choice, indicating that many people value the non-monetary aspects of working on their own terms,” McKinsey states in “Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy,” further noting the gig economy is “rapidly evolving as digital platforms create large-scale, efficient marketplaces that facilitate direct and even real-time connections between the customers who need a service performed and the workers willing to provide that service.”


The gig economy isn’t just self-serving for accounting and finance professionals looking to create more flexible workstyles for themselves, it’s also helping companies address labor issues at a time when the national unemployment rate is hitting historic lows.

In April, for example, the national unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The shrinking skilled labor pool is adding new pressures on accounting and finance firms that need to fill their ranks. According to a recent Randstad US survey, accounting and finance business leaders report being understaffed by 13 percent, and it’s taking an average of 75 and 150 days, respectively, to recruit and hire non-executive and executive positions.

“Lengthy and abundant job vacancies can spell big trouble for companies,” Randstad US warns in its “Finance & Accounting Workplace Trends Guide.” Gig employees, however, offer companies some relief as they continue their permanent placement searches.

In particular, veteran finance professionals who might otherwise consider retirement are gearing up for prolonged success in the gig economy.

“Once in their 60s and 70s, these folks don’t want to manage or compete against younger CPAs at the executive level anymore; yet, they have way too much horsepower and energy to resign, and there’s still a strong marketplace demand for their knowledge and expertise,” says Renee Beckman, CPA, CEO at Limitless Search in Chicago.

“These professionals are hands-on, and can take part in financial implementations, acquisitions, financial modeling, and executivelevel accounting and finance work,” Beckman explains. “They’ll come in and clean up stock.” And because the labor market is so tight, there’s literally no end to the number of opportunities being put in front of these gig-oriented senior professionals. “As long as they don’t need benefits, these empty-nesters that have done well in their careers can pick and choose where they want to be,” Beckman says.


At Big Four public accounting firm PwC, Anne Donovan, U.S. People Innovation Leader, says the gig economy movement benefits both the individual worker and the firm. A veteran CPA who would otherwise disappear into retirement, for example, may be convinced to stay onboard if he or she can cut hours or work with a group of handpicked clients on a project basis. Or, a millennial finance professional who wants more time with his or her family could work on a contingency basis now, and then move into a fulltime position a few years down the road.

“We’ve been dealing in this space for probably five years now on the accounting and tax side of the business; we call it our ‘Flexibility Talent Network,’” Donovan says. “We’ve seen it grow right along with the number of accountants who want to work this way.”

Once ready to stretch his entrepreneurial wings and open a bakery, one PwC CPA decided to continue working for the firm during busy season to supplement his earnings while spending the rest of his time running and growing his business.

“Three months out of the year he comes back and works in a solid, ‘I can get a paycheck,’ job,” Donovan says. “It works well for him — and also for us.”

Offering another example of the gig economy at work at PwC, Donovan points to a Peace Corps volunteer who wanted to have a “fabulous life adventure” while also being able to pay her bills. “She came in and used us for the ‘pay the bills’ part,” Donovan says. A similar scenario involved a Doctors Without Borders participant who wanted to contribute to the program while also maintaining a reliable income as a finance professional.

Donovan says that many of their flexible work arrangements come about thanks to PwC’s exit survey, which asks, “Are you interested in coming back and working in this way?” “We know it’s not a onesize- fits-all employee value proposition, but there’s no shortage of our need for skilled workers,” Donovan says. “As a firm, we view it as our challenge to be smart enough and mature enough to figure out how to use the best talent out there.”


Leveraging the gig economy is top of mind for organizations right now, says Eric Biegansky, a principal in EY’s People Advisory Services practice. That’s because it not only empowers individuals to create flexible work arrangements that suit their lifestyles, but it also gives employers “some degree of control and flexibility” over labor costs and availability.

“Firms can go out in the marketplace and use the gig economy to obtain skill sets that either aren’t residing within their organizations or that they lack the resources or infrastructure to develop,” Biegansky points out. On the flip side, professionals can use gig employment as a means for their own development.

“Gig employment is especially relevant for younger professionals who, unlike many of their predecessors, are not interested in tethering themselves to a single firm for their entire careers. Being a gig worker allows you to flex your time and potentially work on multiple initiatives across different organizations at the same time,” Biegansky says.

From a company’s perspective, Donovan says they should be “warming up and embracing” the gig economy because it’s going to be a big part of the future of the accounting and finance workforce.

“As technology continues to advance and allows us to do our jobs from anywhere, people are going to get creative about how they want to live their lives. People don’t want one-track lives; they want five-track lives,” Donovan says. “If firms want to capture talent, they have to be open to finding talent in a lot of different ways.”

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