A better gig economy is within reach – but not without financial innovation


  • Picture of  Sho Sugihara
    Sho Sugihara
    Sho Sugihara
  • Future of Work
  • Employment
  • Enterprise

Gig workers are some of the hardest working entrepreneurs, and they deserve more of our trust. Their work must be rewarded with access to fair financial products, and a clear path to financial wellbeing.

A quick walk through central London and the explosion in modern forms of work is evident. Freelancers have lunch Deliveroo-ed to their WeWork, as tourists jump into an Uber on their way to an AirBnB. 

It's easy to understand why. The convenience and financial benefits these new services bring both consumers and workers are clear.

But the risks associated with modern working have also been in the spotlight. Gig work can be financially volatile for the worker. It must also be placed against a backdrop of in-work poverty and wage stagnation. Its pros and cons have been well documented, in the Taylor review and subsequent government response.

Instead, I want to focus on trust, and argue that gig workers deserve a lot more of it.

I find it strange that while we happily climb into the cars of strangers after a night out, and have them deliver food to our front doors, we don’t trust the same workers with the basic financial products they deserve.

And our one-dimensional trust has severe consequences for the modern worker.

Imagine you’ve just migrated to the UK, and you’ve started driving for a ride-hailing company. You're doing this until you find a full-time job with benefits to support your family here and back home.

To increase your take home pay, you want to buy a more fuel-efficient car. But without three years of residency, financial products like loans are out of reach. Even if you met the residency requirement, your gig income is discounted by banks when they run affordability checks.

You are what is called a 'thinfile' customer. In other words, there is insufficient data for most financial providers to make a leap of faith to trust and offer you their services.

This means products like loans and insurance are out of reach or provided at unfair prices. As a gig worker with no employee benefits, you resort to loan sharks in emergencies.

And this is a crippling problem. Research in the U.S. showed thinfile consumers spend $250,000 more than those with a file. If you ran the same study focusing on thinfile gig workers, I suspect the figure would be worse.

When we talk to users of our app, we come away humbled by how hard they work to run the services we take for granted and inspired by their entrepreneurial pursuits.

Gig workers are some of the hardest working entrepreneurs, and they deserve more of our trust. Their work must be rewarded with access to fair financial products, and a clear path to financial wellbeing.

At Portify, we start by trusting the gig worker, and we work hard to gain their trust in return. We partner with platforms to help workers with cash flow, and put them on a path to financial security.

After securely connecting their bank accounts to our app, gig workers can see their financial activity across all the platforms they work with. We use this data to help them manage their finances.

For example, we help our users budget for basic day to day expenses and tax. If their balance is running critically low, we give them emergency credit at select stores to buy essentials.

All our financial products are made portable between gigs, and stored in a single secure mobile app. And we’re busy building additional products to improve access to financial services.

Some of our products - like emergency credit - require big leaps of faith for us to offer. But we go the extra mile and trust our users, because we believe gig work is a valid way to earn, and will become a norm.

When 1 in 4 young people say they’d consider doing some form of gig work in the future, financial wellbeing is no longer just an issue for Deliveroo riders.

We need a more robust economy of trust. Without it, gains made in the future of work will continue to be distributed unevenly. Extending trust to gig economy workers is a crucial step to a future of good work.

Sho Sugihara is Co-founder and CEO @ Portify, a startup helping flexible workers achieve financial wellbeing.

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