Strategy

Could Freelance Experts Revolutionize Your Finance Department?

Harnessing freelance expertise may allow CFOs to drive growth without large upfront commitments.

The position of CFO used to be concerned simply with monetary guidance, accounting, and budgeting. But as a recent McKinsey study shows, CFOs are being asked to take on new responsibilities—in compliance, mergers and acquisitions, information technology, risk management, strategy, cybersecurity, and more. In fact, four out of 10 CFOs surveyed by McKinsey said that they spent most of their time and energy on responsibilities that fall outside of the traditional CFO role.

And that means that CFOs and their teams need to develop new types of expertise to fulfill these changing duties. But many CFOs are struggling to adapt their internal teams. In fact, over 70 percent of executives surveyed in Toptal’s 2017 State of the Workforce Report, see finding the right talent for their finance and accounting departments as a top three risk for their organization.

In the past, freelance talent were more commonly utilized to provide specialized, project-based help in an organization’s tech or design teams, while finance departments relied heavily on external consultancies and finance firms to fill in any gaps in accounting, M&A, capital raising, and financial risk assessment.

But the survey indicates that finance teams are turning away from external agencies and increasing their use of independent experts, a shift similar to the one already seen in development and design. In fact, 91 percent of those surveyed indicated that their organizations use agile or freelance talent—and 76 percent planned to increase their use of freelancers over the next few years.

That may be due to the fact that an ever-growing number of highly experienced bankers and consultants are joining the ranks of the freelance elite. McKinsey estimates that 162 million workers in the U.S. and European Union work on a freelance basis—and more than 30 percent of them are high-end professionals who choose freelance work as their primary source of income.

Freelance Talent – Flexibility, Expertise & Speed

Freelance talent offers companies several key benefits, including greater flexibility in hiring, the ability to acquire more cutting edge experts, a reduction in budgetary costs, and often, a reduction in the time to hire. Bringing in outside expertise also provides the benefit of new best practices that can constructively push internal processes and ingrained assumptions.

With many CFOs pointing to external uncertainties like changes to healthcare regulations and political and regulatory shifts as impacting their decisions on growth initiatives, harnessing freelance expertise allows them to drive growth without large upfront commitments.

Hiring freelance finance talent instead of engaging an agency or banking firm reduces your company’s exposure to the larger fees and administrative overhead that come with these agencies. It also enables you to ramp up faster: Freelance talent can be hired in a matter of days, while three to six months is the usual timeframe for engaging consultancies.

Hiring a Global Workforce

In the past, most companies limited their hiring to talent within their geographic region. And with major banks headquartered in  cities like New York and San Francisco, that creates expensive competition for talent in these finance hubs, while more far-flung (but often superior) experts remain untapped.

Survey respondents indicated that hiring remote talent helps drive their companies’ success. Currently, 78 percent use remote talent, though for a majority of them, virtually located talent currently makes up less than half of their total freelance workforce.

Only slightly more than half of those surveyed currently restrict their talent searches to the surrounding area with most business leaders expecting the number of remote workers to increase over the next few years. That will enable them to engage the right people at the right time—regardless of physical boundaries.

Challenges Leveraging Remote Talent Are Now Internal, Not External

The biggest concerns about using remote talent have little to do with the workers’ actual capabilities or commitment to productive outcomes. Common concerns like ensuring remote staff engagement and productivity ranked lower than average in the State of the Workforce survey, as organizations seemed more concerned about internal management’s ability to effectively lead remote workers.

But many business leaders fail to notice the business benefits that come with remote staffing, including reduced costs for real estate, easier compliance with ADA regulations for disabled workers, and a reduction in attrition.

Survey respondents said that the key to effective use of remote teams is building communications systems that work. Harnessing new messaging, remote sharing, and conferencing capabilities enables staff to collaborate across time zones and boundaries.

Freelance talent can play a key role in a CFO’s success—especially as finance departments start to take on new roles that require new capabilities. Optimizing your team by choosing the right talent at the right time—no matter where in the world they’re located—can help ensure your department stays competitive in a globally digital economy.

Rajeev Jeyakumar, VP of Business Talent for Toptal.