Considerations for Maximizing the Value of Independent Knowledge Workers

With the rise of the gig economy, financial services organizations are making increasing use of contingent talent.

By Ben Decker, Vice President, Global Solutions - Finance, Insurance and Business Services/Technologies  |  May 02, 2017

With the rise of the gig economy, financial services organizations are making increasing use of contingent talent. But how can they maximize the value of independent knowledge workers? And what are some factors to consider to minimize the risk associated with relying on external work for knowledge?

An increase of independent workers in financial services

According to the report titled “Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy” by the McKinsey Global Institute, in the U.S., the U.K., and western Europe, independent work is the primary form of income for between 10 and 15 percent of workers. A significant percentage of these free agents are highly skilled professionals who actively choose to be independent, such as IT talent and financial services consultants.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any current statistics pertaining to the percentage of independent workers in the financial services workforce. However, a 2015 report by Oxford Economics titled “Workforce 2020” states that 80 percent of surveyed financial services organizations were making more and more use of contingent labor. Two years later, this still corresponds with what we’re seeing in workforce planning: an increasing reliance on independent knowledge workers, especially for IT and fintech functions.

Important considerations

We’re all aware of the primary benefit of using free agents: You get top talent without being tied to expensive, long-term employer-employee commitments. But as organizations make more use of contingent knowledge workers, there are two important factors to consider.

First, how can you maximize the value of independent knowledge workers?. While organizations might have some tech knowledge in-house, they’re unlikely to have the specialized knowledge needed for the most advanced work. The best way to approach this is to divide the work into gigs; then assess which skills your core workers possess and where you need to supplement those skills with free agents. Additionally, in order to get the best value, you need to determine to what extent you should split up the tasks that need to be completed by contingent labor. Would you be best served by dividing them into multiple small, hyper-focused gigs for highly specialized talent? Or can they be handled by an independent worker with more general knowledge?

Second, how can you minimize the risk associated with relying on external workers for knowledge? Obviously, whenever you use external workers, you need to factor in IP protection, non-competed issues, and compliance concerns. However, there’s another danger. If you continuously rely on external talent for specific knowledge and skills, then eventually, you run the risk of your core workforce not possessing any knowledge in those areas. That can cripple your ability to effectively control the quality of work performed by free agents—and that can have a negative impact on your brand. Especially with the growing influence of technology in financial services, you need to be aware of this risk and strike the right balance between core and contingent workers.

Whatever the future brings, if your contingent workforce strategy isn’t properly prepared, it can spell disaster. But with some careful consideration, using external knowledge workers can become your organization’s strength—not its Achilles heel.

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