The gig economy has shifted the very bedrock of so many industries, and the accounting and finance spheres are indisputably no exception. Freelancers run the gamut, from full-time freelancers to supplementation-minded side-hustlers. As Kenneth Fick, Senior Manager at MorganFranklin Consulting and Paro freelance CFO, noted in a recent webinar, the spectrum spans from “low-level financial analysts to CFOs of Fortune 500 companies.”
Along with rapid-change technology, that freelance revolution will continue to shape the future of work—and its imperative that finance teams have a firm grasp on that future if they want to survive and thrive in accounting’s new normal. With the aforementioned webinar serving as a foundation, here are some need-to-knows while looking ahead.
The Future Belongs to the Problem Explorers
There’s no doubt that AI-fueled automation will continue to alter the way accounting gets done. But machine learning requires guidance, too. As Paro co-founder and CEO Michael Burdick said, “AI is a tool; it’s not a solution.” And the finance team best equipped to optimize AI must be composed of problem solvers. In fact, “problem solvers” doesn’t quite capture it. Call them problem explorers—the financial experts who run headlong into a challenge.
“In the future, I think of people as having augmented intelligence, and AI is where tasks can be done better, faster, and cheaper, but AI still needs direction.,” Burdick said. “You need people to understand what the fringe cases are.” People who are problem explorers.
The finance team of tomorrow will be built—by employers and the freelance economy alike—for the unknown. They will have to be made deeply resilient, and instilled with a firm growth mindset.
“And what I mean by growth-minded is being creative, being, adaptive, and being problem explorers,” said Burdick.
Burdick offers an illustrative anecdote: “I talked with a thought leader within the AI community, and she was like, ‘You know what I did? I just went and took apart a toilet the other day because I was curious as to why.’ That’s the type of problem explorer that I’m talking about.”
Failure Is Not a Four-Letter Word
Perhaps the most important factor in developing growth-mindedness and resiliency is, quite simply, failure—as in encouraging failure, and certainly not being afraid of it.
“Failure has to be something that is accepted, and encouraged, because failure builds that resilience, and if people go out and seek those growth opportunities, they will succeed within this rapidly evolving environment that is the future of the work,” Burdick said. Failure should be encouraged on an individual basis, rather than on existentially impactful grand scales, of course. But within those “fail-safe” situations, if you will, be not afraid.
Or as Fick puts it, “Fail often and fail fast.”
This appears to be an arena where freelancers have a leg up on traditional firm-based financial experts, especially in cases where a team’s accounting practice has shifted away from compliance focus and toward an advisory model. The advisors may be most in need of experiencing failure, and discovering the fruits of failure: innovation.
“When you’re in an employed situation, applying that risk and being seen to fail is never seen as a good thing, however as freelancer, they can play and dabble and create innovation,” noted Chris Downing, Director of Product Management for Accountants and Bookkeepers of Sage.
There’s Power in a Freelance Network
Of course, innovation rarely emerges from a vacuum, or a from a lone wolf, and those creative freelancers best positioned to supplement your finance team are usually those who have built and nurtured their own thriving ecosystem of fellow freelancers. Whether through bookkeeping clubs, freelance unions, or work cooperatives, freelancers frequently embrace collaboration and constant contact—and finance teams should dive into that network.
Traditional leadership and management will always be vital in terms of building resilience and growth mindsets, “but it also comes from the freelance marketplaces where they’re finding and sourcing their work. It’s something at Paro that we take pretty seriously.” Those networks provide stabilization for an environment that can sometimes feel unmoored by rapid movement and succession.
Such networks decrease the sense of volatility for freelancers and simultaneously expand the freelance economy. They also provide a space for freelancers to not only share ideas but even share projects as needed. Win-win, to be sure.
Will Employers Need to Develop Talent or Outsource?
Leaders of finance teams are always on the lookout for accounting professionals with specialized skills. So in those instances, should management opt to outsource to an expert independent contractor, or should they invest in their own people, who might be more likely to eschew the freelancer route themselves, and stick around with the company, if they receive full-stop investment from their higher-ups? The answer to both questions is “yes.”
You simply cannot succeed without doing both.
We all know that it’s always hard to find great talent. But progressive enterprises are finding the right fits by moving toward what’s called total talent management. Essentially, that means human resources focuses on strategies for both full-time employees as well as contingent labor.
It’s important to remember that you can’t force a hiring strategy. Perhaps the best advice is to dive into the online labor marketplace. Experiment with the pool and urge your colleagues to do the same. Paro is of course taking the lead in the accounting sector, but digital networks for outsourcing freelancers exist other realms, too, such as design and development, marketing, consulting, and so much more.
So absolutely invest internally, but always invest in the future trends, too.