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 |
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
“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
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.”
NO ONE-TRACK LIVES
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
“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.”