Meet the CFOs Redefining Gig Working

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Mention gig workers and you often associate it with physical labor or creative work. But the gig workforce is now expanding to include executives and leadership positions.

“Your next CFO or CMO might be a gig worker,” according to Gartner’s report 10 Types Roles You Didn’t Know Could be Gig. The report stated the gig economy has extended into a new talent pool and skillsets, creating new opportunities for both business leaders and organizations.

The rewards

Gartner’s report stated there are multiple reasons for organizations turning towards gig executives.

“Gig or interim executives may step in for various reasons, such as a temporary fill for the organization as it takes six to nine months to look for a full-time replacement for a C-suite role,” stated the report. 

“It generally comes down to what you need and what you can afford,” said Scott Richardson, an Australia-based gig CFO, at a webinar organized by The Teh Group and Fi8wrk — an upcoming platform that connects businesses with gig CFOs.

Richardson added that some organizations working on specific projects — like M&A or raising capital —need specific skills during a certain period. Others simply cannot afford a full-time person. He said this created a sweet spot for gig executives to fulfill the role in a part-time, interim, or project-based arrangement.

Having over 30 years of experience as a financial executive, gig CFO David Frost added that organizations looking for experienced executives also found it easier when they considered gig arrangements.

“Having an outsourced CFO, you get someone that’s focused. You get someone that’s not involved in politics, allowing you to move on to the next step for the organizations,” Frost said. “[Gig CFOs] got the experience to add value very quickly when they have a few grey hairs or no hair at all.”

“As an employer, I’m more than happy to consider contractual expertise,” said Nora Junita Hussaini, CFO, Malaya Digital Economy Corp (MDEC). She said organizations need different skills at different phases of their development, and getting a gig executive may help the organization better align with its changing needs.

“I think companies need to be agile and should have the flexibility today to meet different demands in the market and ecosystem,” she said.

A previous gig CFO herself, Hussaini said it was a rewarding experience. She noted that the remuneration was often competitive since the employer did not have to cover medical benefits or employee provident funds.

“What you are taking home, as cash payout, can be extremely competitive, sometimes significantly more than colleagues that are in full-time positions,” she said.

The risks

Nevertheless, the rewarding experience also comes with risks, particularly when sharing sensitive information with the gig executive. But this is more manageable than many think.

Malaysia-based PNB Group’s fintech innovation arm Jewel Digital Ventures CFO Azleen Waris said there were different ways to manage this risk, like signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and doing a background check. She said it was similar to hiring a consultant for due diligence when you invested in companies.

MDEC’s Hussaini added the professional community and institute also naturally protected many businesses. “Some of us are licensed to practice; all it takes is a complaint to your institute, and suddenly you may not be licensed to practice anymore,” she said. “I think the risk is mitigated by the nature of the people you are working with, in terms of their credentials.”

Another primary concern is the termination period of the role. Richardson noted that some gig CFOs are taking up these jobs between permanent positions, and their sudden departure could disrupt the operation. But this can also be managed by setting the right expectations upfront.

“The company needs to make sure the CFO fits into the project and is committed to the job,” he said. “They need to understand the person is doing it as a business choice, not as a transition to a permanent job.”

Frost added it was about building trust. He said gig CFOs have a shorter time to build trust and add value; thus, they have to build relationships within the organization and across the industry constantly.

“If you want to get into the gig economy, you have to work on that relationship; it’s very important,” he said. “My only value is trust. It is a huge thing for me, as much as my reputation.”

Matchmaking answer

While there is a demand for their skills and risk can be mitigated, gig CFOs said it was not easy to find matching jobs. One challenge highlighted was organizations' lengthy process when identifying the right skills.

MDEC’s Hussaini added that organizations often look for a wide range of expertise, taking months to identify the right person. “It’s better to focus on the deliverables and what you need now,” she added.

According to New Zealand-based gig CFO Tony Rutherford, this long process could be shortened if a marketplace matches gig CFOs with organizations.

“There is LinkedIn and other social media platforms, but there’s no one way for suppliers and buyers to tap into the gig economy [of financial executives],” said Rutherford.

With over 30 years of experience as a financial professional, Rutherford said a platform that categorizes gig executives based on their experiences, industries, and specific financial skillsets would be helpful for organizations to identify experts. If the platform could develop a mechanism to verify the listed skillsets and experience of the gig executive and provide templates for NDAs and contracts, it could also speed up and simplify the hiring process.

This was the reason behind the founding of Fi8wrk. The company, which is looking to launch its platform later this year, wants to encourage financial executives to take advantage of the gig economy. The platform will play a matchmaker between organizations and gig financial talents, said co-founder Jeffrey Teh.

It’s not for everyone

Despite the benefits, gig working is not for all finance professionals.

“Some people are brilliant CFOs, but won’t function very well in a gig economy,” said Rutherford. “There are two main factors: the technical skills and cultural fit.”

He said being a broad generalist with a specialty, like big data analysis in finance, was essential. On the cultural front, he noted gig CFOs also needed to learn to “work with clients, listen to your customers and be able to respond in a really meaningful agile way.”

Frost added that gig CFOs needed a specific mindset and personality to succeed. “The big question mark is, can you pick up the processes quickly and understand what [the company is] doing and adding value as soon as possible? If you can’t do that, you can’t be a gig CFO.”

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/ra2studio