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As careers become more flexible, accountants are primed to take advantage of short-term projects and contracts.
If some business leaders are correct, then we could be entering the age of the 'gig economy'1. Instead of working full-time for one employer, many professionals may enjoy more varied challenges by working freelance or as a contractor for a number of organisations2. In other words: you might become your own boss sooner than you think.
Here's five reasons why accountants could prosper in the gig economy:
1. Technology cuts costs
"What really powers the gig economy is technology and the fact that you can start up and run your own accounting business for relatively little overhead," says Paul Meissner CA, founder of the Freedom Accounting System, who established his own cloud accounting firm in 2010.
"You don't need a bricks and mortar store front to run your own accounting practice," says Meissner. "Thanks to the internet, you can work from pretty much anywhere. You can be at home, travelling with family, or at a café."
And you don't have to use paid advertising, says Meissner. "Social media gives you access to an astronomical number of potential clients."
2. Insider knowledge
Many accountants begin their careers working in a public practice. This can offer valuable insights in to how to set up and structure client engagements, and manage customer relationships.
"Having worked in a public practice, accountants are well-positioned to set up a business of their own," says Meissner. "We are skilled at many of the things that other start-ups might struggle with. We are trained in financial administration, financial literacy, understanding pricing, and paying tax. If we want to run our own accounting practice, I think that gives us a head start."
3. Trusted advisors
It has been argued that trust is a vital currency in the gig economy. Customer ratings are a common feature in many online marketplaces, which means providers offering reliable, trusted and ethical services can hold a commercial advantage3.
"I think Chartered Accountants are well-positioned in this regard," says Brad Seeto CA, partner of Bramelle Partners. "To become a CA you need to satisfy academic and employment requirements. You're also expected to observe professional and ethical standards."
Seeto is the former co-owner of SuitBids, an online marketplace where professionals could connect with potential clients and bid for work such as tax preparation and bookkeeping. "I think many consumers on SuitBids were attracted to working with accountants holding the CA qualification because they felt this verified the quality of the service they would receive," he says.
4. Geography is no barrier
Accounting professionals who offer certain compliance services are no longer limited by geography, Seeto points out: "The gig economy offers the potential for accountants to live anywhere and still work on annual financial statements, self-managed super fund work etc. On SuitBids, we found accountants and clients could be based in entirely different places, yet technology allowed them to connect and work together seamlessly."
"For example, you might have an executive in Sydney seeking a qualified accountant to manage their individual tax return. Invariably we would expect to see bids from accountants from regional areas, who were qualified in the relevant tax requirements. They offered a reliable service and competitive rates; so it was a win-win."
For accountants with young children, freelancing or contracting part-time can be an attractive alternative to full-time employment, says Seeto: "The reason we got involved with SuitBids originally was that my wife was on maternity leave with our second child and we saw how difficult it was to find full-time employment that was flexible enough to fit around childcare and schooling. The gig economy offers the chance to work at your own pace."
Taking on project work and temporary assignments can help accountants to stay up-to-date with changes in standards and technology, according to Seeto: "Chartered Accountants invest a lot of time and effort to qualify, and then maintain their skills through training and development. If you want to keep up during a period of your life where full-time work isn't practical, then a spell working in the gig economy could be ideal."
Photo credit: Dan Karas, Karasmatik
1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-the-gig-economy-is-here-to-stay_us_59891a6ce4b08a4c247f2557 and http://business.scoop.co.nz/2017/11/21/casual-and-contractor-employment-predicted-to-rise/