For CFOs Strapped for Talent, the Gig Economy Could Be a Boon

by Sandy Cockrell

As the gig economy takes further hold, CFOs should reconsider their strategies for recruiting, accessing, and retaining talented employees.

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The “gig” economy, comprised of contract, contingent, or outsourced workers - many of whom prefer the flexibility of short-term projects to working in a conventional full-time position - presents finance executives facing talent shortages with a potential solution. But as eager as CFOs might be to tap into this fast-growing resource, given its potential impact on cost-efficiency, they could risk undermining their own efforts if they don’t proceed carefully.

With unemployment hovering near a 50-year low in the U.S., and workers with finance-related skills in high demand, CFOs expect to scale up their use of gig workers in the next few years, according to Deloitte’s third-quarter 2018 CFO Signals™ survey. The surveyed CFOs, representing 132 of North America’s largest and most influential organizations, said that they expected their finance function’s participation in the gig economy to skyrocket by 88 percent in the next three years. Over that same time-span, they also envision an uptick of 65 percent in the finance workforce operating in real or virtual shared services, with that segment increasing from 19.3 percent to 31.9 percent.

CFOs who participated in the quarterly survey, which Deloitte has conducted since 2010, reported that 8.3 percent of their finance workforce now consists of gig workers, a figure they expect to nearly double in three years. That outlook likely correlates to their soaring concerns over finance talent, which ranked among their top internal worries—as it has for several quarters. In addition to competing for those with finance-related skills, CFOs also face the daunting task of finding workers whose talents squarely fit the evolving demands of the function. According to the survey, CFOs expect the responsibilities of the finance function to shift beyond accounting, reporting and compliance, to attract and develop finance staff who are more adept at analysis, prediction, and decision support.

While finance leaders can deploy tools, such as digital talent platforms to help develop an agile workforce, leveraging today’s gig workers can be surprisingly complex. In the past, gig workers tended to serve in well-defined roles, recruited to help meet a tight project deadline or provide specialized skills. But in a fluid, fast-moving economy, CFOs can find themselves in the market for the kind of skills they haven’t needed before, or they may find someone whose talents could be a match—if only the company’s needs were clear. To make use of gig workers the most effective, it’s critical that CFOs understand where to find them, when to use them, and how to accommodate their expectations. Without sufficient clarity, CFOs may risk being overwhelmed by the gig economy’s escalating abundance and availability.

Meeting the demand for new types of skills 

CFOs who participated in the third-quarter 2018 CFO Signals survey noted that 11.5 percent of their workforce does not have the necessary skills for today's finance function. More than two-thirds of surveyed CFOs ranked analytical skills, digital technologies/automation, and core business skills as the most important skills an organization needs to develop (or continue to develop) to effectively support finance in the next three years.

Analytical skills ranked highest among surveyed CFOs, who specifically listed such abilities as data management, data analysis, data science, analytical insights, budgeting, and forecasting. In the digital technologies/automation category, CFOs identified gaps that needed filling in artificial intelligence, blockchain, digital literacy, ERP work processes, process automation, and robotics.

Surveyed CFOs’ third-highest sought-after competency consisted of core business skills, covering areas from business partnership and communication to strategic thinking and decision-making.

Preparing to manage and house gig workers 

While gig workers tend to prize their autonomy, it is important for a manager to coordinate their efforts. But in a business composed of a diverse combination of worker types—not counting robots—CFOs will likely need to rethink their talent management and development strategies. For example, traditional training programs and rewards may not be effective or even appropriate for gig workers who, by definition, typically move from one assignment to the next.

Another issue to consider is where finance talent will physically reside. The CFO Signals survey found that finance personnel, including contingent workers, who are nearshore-based—defined as working from a location within three time zones of corporate headquarters—comprise 42.3 percent of the respondents’ finance workforce, and that figure is expected to edge up by about 3 percent in three years. Surveyed CFOs also anticipate that the proportion of distant offshore finance workers will increase from 15.4 percent to 22 percent in three years. And 45 percent of respondents believe that most finance work will be conducted via shared service centers. Additionally, 54 percent of CFOs project that their talent roadmap can support a technology-enabled workforce in three years.

How a shift toward gig workers might impact a company’s real estate footprint remains to be seen: Responding to a statement that “Office space required for finance workers will likely be reduced by 30 percent or more” in three years, 44 percent of CFOs disagreed. Meanwhile 23 percent agreed, about the same number (24 percent) indicating that they were neutral. In addition, 27 percent of CFOs agreed that “tele-commuting and finance work in non-traditional or non-company office locations will likely increase dramatically” in three years while one-third of respondents disagreed.

Communication, collaboration, connectivity

The gig economy isn’t new, but its growth has been spurred by advances in technology and connectivity, matching workers who possess specific skills to businesses with comparable needs. 

The emergence of digital platforms for recruiting has enabled companies across sectors to participate in the gig economy. Among industries represented in the Q3 2018 CFO Signals survey, service sector CFOs anticipated the biggest increase in gig workers, projecting 12.2 percent growth in three years. 

For CFOs, as with their C-suite peers, communication, collaboration, and connectivity embody the future of the workplace. No doubt, some CFOs will continue to put a higher value on recruiting full-time, permanent workers, preferring a long-term commitment from their finance talent. But as the gig economy takes further hold, CFOs should reconsider their strategies for recruiting, accessing, and retaining talented employees—gig or otherwise—who can meet the changing demands of the finance organization.  

Sanford (Sandy) Cockrell III is a national managing partner of the U.S. CFO Program, Deloitte LLP, and the global leader of the CFO Program for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.