In ever-larger numbers, U.S. workers are moving into freelance, independent and on-demand employment opportunities. Advisors would be wise to prepare themselves to help prospective clients who fall into those so-called gig-economy categories.
“It’s a great opportunity,” says Avani Ramnani, the director of financial planning at Francis Financial in New York City.
Potentially, workers whose compensation is reported on 1099 forms, can be a valuable niche in an advisor’s practice.
“You have a loyal client base there,” says Dan Inveen, a principal and director of research FA Insight, a consulting firm based in Tacoma, Wash.
To understand how much of a sea change has occurred in the proportion of 1099 workers, consider these numbers: Two decades ago, 6% of the U.S. workforce received income from freelancing or self-employment, but today about 34% fall into that category, according to one study. Those numbers include independent contractors, freelance business owners, moonlighters and temporary workers.
And these gig-economy participants are not all millennials. A recent survey of 1,037 companies found that older, more experienced professionals were often the ones sought after by on-demand employers.
Ramnani estimates that participants in the gig economy make up roughly 5% of the clients of her firm, which manages more than $150 million. They are a large enough niche that she keeps a prepared list of suggestions for such clients to follow.
For starters, she asks them to set up separate banking accounts, one for their work and another for personal spending. She also recommends that they use personal financial management software, like Mint or Quicken, to track all their income and business and personal expenses.
Quote“Tax time and your tax bill can be incredibly painful.”
In addition, she works with these clients’ tax accountants to help them select and set up self-employed retirement plans and also to estimate quarterly tax payments, since no taxes are withheld from the 1099 compensation they receive.
Finally, Ramnani frequently recommends they work with career coaches and recruitment specialists to ensure work assignments continue to flow in their direction.
A raft of start-up companies — including Work Market, Guru and Upwork — have been created to provide online job matching and other services for freelancers and the employers that hire them on demand.
Also new task-management and time-management online tools have surfaced to help keep freelancers organized and focused. Make sure clients know at least about the time-tested ones like Evernote, Google Apps and DeskTime.
For gig-economy workers, a critical attribute is self-control with their finances, says Gina Aldaz, an advisor at Talis Advisors in Plano, Texas, which manages more than $250 million in assets.
“Tax time and your tax bill can be incredibly painful” she says, if such clients don’t set aside money and budget for slow months. Her firm helps clients use retirement calculators to get an initial idea of what type of retirement plan they should chose — among Roths, SEPs, Simple IRAs as well as solo 401(k)s — and how much they should save.
Strategic direction about retirement planning matters more to gig-economy clients than those who benefit from employers’ retirement programs. So these clients tend to value the help of financial planners who can offer such direction more than other clients. “They come in and they feel very supported,” Ramnani says about her clients who are working in on-demand, freelance and consulting positions.
When it comes to referrals, gig-economy clients seem to be better at helping spread the word about her firm’s capabilities. On average, they generate more referrals than other clients, she says. “They do tend to talk about us more,” Ramnani says.
There is a flip side, however: Gig-economy clients can be high-need clients. “They do tend to be more time intensive,” Ramnani says.
All in all, the pluses outweigh the minuses, Inveen believes. “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with a glut of high-need clients,” he says.
Inveen believes that gig-economy clients, particularly the high need ones, will appreciate their advisors more and stick with them longer than other clients.
Advisors might also standardize their advice for such clients and therefore achieve economies of scale, making it less time-consuming, he says.
In the end, this niche is likely to pay off. The advisors “will gain a reputation as knowing how to handle these workers’ special needs,” he says.