Today, access to the internet and personal devices has never been common. The gig economy — in which an individual needs nothing more than a smartphone to become a multi-tasking entrepreneur — is well on its way.
And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. In 2019, Mastercard estimated that the gig economy was predicted to grow by 17.4% annually by the end of 2023. The sharp increase in reliance on digital solutions coupled with the economic downfall of the pandemic have only sped things up. By 2027, gig workers are projected to make up over half of the American workforce. And young people are leading the way — with nearly half of all millennials relying on online platforms to make ends meet.
The rapidly growing global workforce comes with a unique set of practical challenges. It requires navigating complex regulation, stubborn legislating, cultural divides, and evolving trends. As the pandemic wanes and the gig economy is here to stay, the payments space needs to pay close attention to the following changes and their impact for what’s next.
Real-time payments is top of mind for gig workers
On average, gig workers earn about 58% less than full-time employees. This means that getting paid on-demand is ever more important — both to meet their financial responsibilities, and continue affording the cost of doing business. Getting paid seamlessly and on-demand is top of mind for independent workers. So much so that 83% of gig workers said they would even pay an additional fee for real-time payments.
As employers acquire talent further and further around the globe, arranging efficient, on-demand payments becomes more difficult. Settling cross-border payments requires third party intervention, and traditionally this means slow, expensive, and high-friction international bank transfers. Depending on where the worker is based, this also means overcoming a secondary regulatory environment and finding solutions for unbanked populations.
Workers’ rights are changing
In the early days of the gig economy, employment platforms escaped the due diligences by classifying workers as independent “partners”. This left workers ineligible for employee benefits like minimum wage and pension. Since then, the courts in both the UK and Spain have ruled that gig workers are benefit-deserving employees.
In the US, home to courier giants like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart, the legislative pushback is slower. But as the Department of Labor finds itself carrying the cost of unemployment for gig workers during the pandemic, the shift of burden to employers is inevitable. In California, for example, legislators voted in Prop 22 which keeps gig workers classified as independent contractors while providing them 120% of the local minimum wage and healthcare contribution subsidies.
In developed economies around the globe, legislation is changing to promote benefits and protections, such as paid annual leave, minimum wage, accident insurance, and healthcare subsidies. As gig workers gain equal legislative protections, employment platforms will rely more and more on payments companies to meet the worker needs.
Expanding the availability of talent means cross-border payments. Direct-to-bank payments are workers’ preferred method of payment, but come with major challenges. Bank regulations are complex, requiring the receiving end to be licensed money issuer and able to meet international KYC and AML standards. On top of these are the fees incurred for all parties, that chip away at the incomes of both worker and employer.
To meet the needs of gig workers and employers, fintechs are rising to the challenge of providing agile, nimble solutions. Nium’s gig economy payments solution and global network of partners, licences and real-time corridors helps ease the operational burden for businesses looking to hire and pay gig workers globally.
“We believe we can be a global catalyst to increase global commerce, removing some of the payments friction which has traditionally held businesses back. The Nium platform simplifies the B2B payments experience by enabling critical financial services to be easily embedded — helping today’s local market players become tomorrow’s global giants.” — Prajit Nanu, Nium’s co-founder and CEO.
Retaining quality talent
The gig economy is growing largely due to the flexibility it offers — from hours worked to the types and number of jobs held. In the height of the pandemic’s economic downfall, this flexibility helped millions of people support their households, and at times even provide greater income than they would through full-time employment.
With the gig economy here to stay, and the economy coming to rely on local and global talent, the long-term viability of the workforce will depend on businesses planning ahead. Minimum wage alone is not an effective retention strategy. To keep quality gig workers, companies will have to make efforts to offer fair protections, easy payments, and attractive compensation packages, like early delivery and retention bonuses.
The gig economy promises talent availability at scale. But seizing this moment means being equipped for cross-border payments, currencies and cultures. Read Nium’s eBook Paying it Forward: The Future of Payments in the Gig Economy to learn about the four trends to be prepared for this opportunity.