Ep. 154: Michael Burdick - The Future of Finance via the Freelance Economy

November 29, 2021 | 25 Minutes

Michael Burdick, Founder, Chief Strategy Officer & Interim CFO at Paro, joins Count Me In to talk about how he is reimagining the finance and accounting industry via the freelance economy. Paro provides flexible finance and accounting solutions to businesses via their network of highly vetted freelance experts. Through a proprietary AI-powered platform, Paro precisely matches clients with the best-fit experts to solve problems and drive growth. As many discuss the "future of work" or the "future of finance", Michael highlights the value of "freedom of choice" in the freelance economy, empowering more individuals to make a greater impact and solve more problems. To learn more, download and listen now!

Contact Michael Burdick: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaeldburdick/

Visit Paro: https://paro.io/

Blog Posts from Paro:
  1. https://paro.io/blog/modern-finance-department-functions-roles-approaches-evolving/
  2. https://paro.io/blog/democratization-of-professional-talent-transforming-how-we-work/
  3. https://paro.io/blog/save-costs-through-freelance-talent/
  4. https://paro.io/blog/expert-success-story-cfo-marine-journey/

Adam: (00:05)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Adam Larson, and I'm pleased to introduce Paro's CFO and Chief Strategy Officer, Michael Burdick, Michael founded his company with the goal of reimagining the finance and accounting industry via the freelance economy. In this episode, he talks with Mitch about how the future of finance really comes down to the freedom of choice and the ability to quickly solve problems for the business. Keep listening to learn more about on-demand fractional talent and the future of work,
 Mitch: (00:45)
 The future of work, or more specifically for our listeners, you know, the future of finance. It's talked about a lot when it comes to what the profession needs to know. And I think as we were kind of just discussing it, it's been a popular topic, but obviously much has changed in the last year or so since the future of work really came to light. So I'm curious from your perspective, why is it talked about so much? How do you define the future of finance, the future of work, you know, and what does it really mean to you?
 Michael: (01:17)
 Sure. Well, first off, thanks for having me. And I'm excited to dig in on this question and related topics in terms of the future of work. I think taking a step back, we need to discuss, you know, the, the changes that COVID had on worker preferences and how we all approach work in general. It was COVID was a giant mass social experiment in remote work. We're all forced to do it. And, and being forced to work remotely, all business professionals for the first time realized how mobile they can be. I think that's an important thing to call out here because prior to COVID, pre pandemic, people wanted to express that choice and have that flexibility and work on their own terms, but didn't necessarily have the platform or the burning platform really for that change specifically to occur. And now what we're seeing is a big shift in how worker preferences are popping up and specifically that people want to work remotely. You can't put that genie back in the bottle, business professionals want to work on their own terms. You know, you see all these big public battles going on at, major tech companies, even PWC announcing that, you know, I don't know something like a hundred thousand of their workers will be permanently remote. And the thing is in the future of work, it's all about that choice and flexibility that people want, and aligning that with what company's demands are. So that's a little bit of context and backstory, but I think this is really a major change, a major period of change, specifically as it relates to how financial institutions, accounting firms, enterprises approach work in general. And I think it's, foundational in a few different regards, specifically, allowing people to exercise that choice in an industry that was previously very hesitant to adopt. you know, we're talking about a pretty risk averse industry in general, so pretty hesitant to adopt futuristic approaches and demands that are being forced on finance departments are multifaceted and what's valued is flexibility and agility, which by the way, the future of work does offer. So I don't know, I think this is just a major period for change. You know, what the context being that COVID accelerated a lot of that change.
 Mitch: (03:43)
 Yeah, that's exactly it. And I think we did a lot of research on the future of work, and this is going back, like you said, pre pandemic, and a lot of the ideas were quickly put into place, right? So the idea of future of finance, future of work, it's evolving just as fast as, you know, what we're seeing underneath our feet. So, you know, taking this a step further, where else can this really go in your opinion? You know, the future of work is, is now essentially. So what differentiates the current state of finance from what the new future of finance may look like?
 Michael: (04:18)
 Current state from new future of finance? Well, let's take a step back. I think it's important to define future of work a little bit more and unpack that if it's okay, because that's a, that's a very big, bold statement that can mean multiple different things. Future of work can encompass the technology and tools that are necessary for working remotely. For example, it can also refer specifically to worker automation, right? Machine learning. It can also refer to how people work specifically for Paro and how we're looking at worker preference changes is related to the freelance economy. So I did want to highlight that for us future work and freelance economy, we sort of use those interchangeably because there are additional forces at play here. that dictate what the future of work is going to look like. But specifically for us, we're, we're looking at the freelance economy.
 Mitch: (05:18)
 I appreciate you sharing that context because it does, you know, there are different interpretations, different definitions and, you know, to speak to the freelance economy, as you said, that's actually the first time I've heard something like that. So I think now getting your perspective on, you know, kind of, like I said, what do you anticipate becoming more prevalent in this freelance economy? I would say, freelance was something that was futuristic almost for the accounting profession, not too long ago. And now you're saying it's, it's pretty much, you know, a part of your company. so what do you see becoming more prevalent and, you know, how do you kind of differentiate the current state from your definition of the future of work?
 Michael: (06:01)
 Yeah, so I think there are three key things that are gaining momentum very quickly, specifically as it relates to the future of work and freelance economy. One is on-demand expertise. If you really think about what a firm model or a job or working at a large company entails pretty much requires the worker to morph and change into. It's almost like a fitting around peg into a square hole. The worker has to adapt to what the company requires and on-demand expertise in the future of work. It's really enabling the individual to express their individual creativity skills and preferences. And so I think that's a key distinction, to, as remote work. I, I brought this up earlier as it relates to context and post COVID changes. We really can't put that genie back in the bottle. Once people have experienced what it's like to work remotely, if you will, again, you know, talking about Google and Apple and all these major tech companies pushing back their in person, requirements and, you know, PWC even going almost fully remote that, that, that's just something, once you experience it and, and once it's been opened up, it's really hard to revert back. So I think remote work is here to stay. And then third is related to individual choice and I was kind of alluding to this as it relates to on-demand expertise, but choice is something that I think we've all wanted to express at one point in our careers. You know, there's something that, that doesn't fit, right? Maybe it's work-life balance, you know, thinking about commuting into the office two hours each way. and all of that lost time that you could be spending with family, for example, that's a choice that we make and sometimes those choices are limited and the future work in the freelance economy. I think part of this is opening up the options and the choices that we have at our disposal. And so I think it's those three things, key things is on-demand expertise two is remote work and three is choice.
 Mitch: (08:10)
 Those are all really good points. And, you know, I kind of want to follow up on each of them, you know, if I, can and you let me know what you think, but you know, we're talking about this idea of becoming more prevalent and you listed a bunch of companies who have bought into the remote work, right? We've all seen, indefinite, you know, remote work or at least pushing it out to sometime 2022, whatever the case may be. So if it is remote work, maybe it's the idea of freedom of choice. Like you were saying, really giving into, what the employees need within the organization. Or if it's just the on demand piece of this, I'm sure there are challenges is what I'm getting at. Right? And some of the more traditional organizations probably have organizational decision makers who don't quite buy into this, right. They still want to go back to the old ways. So what do you think it's going to take for some of these businesses, some of these individuals to really buy into these three components of the future of work that you just laid out for us.
 Michael: (09:14)
 I'm going to bifurcate this in two, companies and workers, you know, the business professionals for companies there is on average, an old school, old guard mentality where, you know, I need face time, but I value butts in seats. I value, you know, you clocking in and clocking out and that's not what workers are looking for. They want that choice, flexibility, autonomy, freedom, also to feel like they've, self-actualized, you know, they've reached almost the peak of their worker preference pyramid. You know, if you want to think about it as the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, foundational layers for workers, or, you know, income and stability, all the way up to, at the top would be like, self-actualization, you know, feeling like they're making a difference, feeling fulfilled, you know, and in between there could be like community and, you know, feeling like it sends a comradery. And so if you look at that holistic pyramid, that's a lot for somebody to actually like, feel empowered, to leave a full-time job and go out and express that choice. So from a worker standpoint, I think there's a, still a lot that the industry needs to do industry meaning the freelance economy to enable people to express that choice because frankly, the freelance economy for most is terrifying, right? Not knowing how much you're going to make in the future having to go find the next opportunity. And how we think about it as at Paro is we'll be we're freeing experts and business professionals to leave the confines of traditional employment and go express their talents on their own terms. And that's really difficult to your point, Mitchell, which is it's a incredibly complex problem from worker preferences to enable that choice. Now having said that business professionals on average have, have experienced remote work and what it means to have some semblance of choice because of COVID and being able to work on their own terms wherever they want whenever they want. And so I think that the reversion back to the main, it's not necessarily going to occur, but we're more pushing towards that individual choice. Having said that companies and enterprises historically are slower to move up the change curve and adopt us just because they're large ships and steering, a large ship is very difficult to do. And however, if you think about the worker preference changes, if companies don't, adapt and change and think about flexibility and choice ingrained in their DNA and how they think about their cultures, then they're not going to have access to the worker population and pool that they had access to prior to COVID because those workers are going to also be in the freelance economy, working on their own terms, expressing their talents elsewhere. So it really is if enterprises and companies don't adapt, then they just won't have access to that talent. And I think that's something that's incredibly important to them.
 Mitch: (12:22)
 I want to get your opinion on something. You know, I mentioned we did a lot of research into the future of work, you know, going on a couple of years ago now, and one of the theories or philosophies, whatever you want to call it, kind of what you were talking about here, as far as employee engagement and, and just their overall involvement with the company was kind of this 60, 30, 10 rule where, you know, employees, they dedicate, you know, 60% of their time or focus attention. However you want to break it up into their main hustle, right? Their main source of income, you know, they have to satisfy that need, but then employees also have other wants. They have other talents, I think is maybe what you're talking about here. And roughly 30% of the time, you know, they can express themselves with some kind of side hustle or something that gets, gives them more enjoyment. And then 10% goes to learning about themselves and about their skills and whatever the case may be. So, you know, like I said, this was something that popped up during research. Is that something that you're seeing as far as this freelance economy where people have different passions as well, or do you think it really is, is it income driven? Like w what is the need for this individual satisfaction as they go and search for this?
 Michael: (13:36)
 That's a great point you bring up and it's a fantastic question. The reality is choice is very difficult to pin down and define, you know, we all want to like have a formula for what choice is, that's the ideal state. However, we're talking about individuals here, we're talking about people that are very different. There's no, there's no specific pattern because one, one person could want just to work on passion projects, to your point, one person could want to become a deep domain expert on one topic. That choice is really, really hard to empower and enable. And so to your point, I think part of it is providing the flexibility for people to choose what that route from a personal standpoint, and an individual standpoint could be so specifically thinking about the hierarchy of needs that I kind of outlined earlier. Part of it is nailing that down first, right at the foundational levels, it's income, stability, and predictability, in the middle it's career growth, income growth, community. And at the top, it's really like self-actualization realizing like their full potential. And, and, you know, for me, I use the analogy as to where I came from. So at Deloitte, it was self-actualization could be defined as you've made it to the partnership, right? It's whatever your individual goal is. However that wasn't my goal, but reaching the pinnacle and the peak, is an individual choice and defined by the business professional. And so the, the tools that you get there, I think the freelance economy provides more options than, traditional companies and enterprises and firms provide. because those, those employment structures, I came from big four, it was, you know, work two years, you get promoted to work for another two years, get promoted and yada, yada, yada, it's a very much the Deloitte way. Here's the fine pathway. Again, like that's fitting a round peg in a square hole. And, and so in the, in the freelance economy, part of it could be Mitchell, like, you know, you want a full-time job and then have a side hustle that's choice, you know, or it could be that you just want to freelance the entire time and, you know, spend more time at home with your kids, right. That's choice as well. And I think the freelance economy specifically enables more pathways towards that self-actualization.
 Mitch: (16:03)
 So you keep going back to freedom of choice here, and I totally get where you're coming from. Like, I can relate to the ambiguity, flexibility, freedom that comes with it, but, you know, I want to take a step back and look at this from a business perspective, again, less other than individual or business people, all of our listeners here are accounting and finance professionals for the most part. So when you give employees this freedom of choice and you allow, I guess, or buy into this freelance economy, I'm sure one of the first questions that comes to mind for these listeners is what's the ROI, what are the benefits of this? So if you do get this, buy-in from organizations and the higher ups, the decision makers, and they allow for this to happen, you know, it becomes more popular. What kind of benefits can these organizations expect to reap from, like I said, buying into this and providing more choice, more freedoms.
 Michael: (17:01)
 Yeah. So I think there are three things. It's one - speed, two - quality, and three - ultimately cost. The ROI on the cost part is a little bit more difficult to pin down. But if you think about companies, they have problems they're looking to solve. They may not have it well defined, but typically the historical way of approaching a problem is throwing a body at it, right? Let's hire more people and go solve this. However, in the future of work, I think it's very important for companies to define specifically, what are the problems they're trying to solve and what are the success metrics associated with those outcomes and giving more clarity and definition around that problem enables you to shape it into a project. And what I mean by that is the project sort of like, what I think about is like the project script, which also defines the success metrics and what you need to do to achieve that in doing that, you can very easily tap into an on-demand expert, actually not very easily. And that's where part of the problems exist today. But if you have that defined project and what it is, you're trying to solve what your problem is, then you can connect with an on-demand expert who can actually solve it. For example, let's say you've outgrown your existing ERP system and you want to, implement a new, more robust system. That's a problem, right? That you may face. So define it explicitly, lay out what your objectives and goals are, and then finding the right subject matter experts to go and do that. That talent may not be in-house that talent may not be within your network. That talent may be within the freelance economy on demand. And so our entire mission is to enable freelance or express that choice. And in doing so enable companies to tap into subject matter experts when and where they need them. And that ultimately leads back to the speed, quality, and cost components that I highlighted originally, because in the end, if we can democratize access to talent and opportunities, in doing so, we're empowering both the business professionals and the companies, to realize that ROI.
 Mitch: (19:23)
 You know we've talked a lot here about the freelance economy and the future of work, and you obviously have great insight and, and, you know, are, you know, making great moves here and being adaptable and flexible and agile. So just, I want to give you an opportunity to close out the conversation here. Are there any other points or, you know, future predictions, whatever you want to call it, something that you see coming down the road for the future of finance?
 Michael: (19:52)
 Well, I think it's three things that we kind of covered, you know, well first thank you all for your time and thank you, Mitchell for hosting. And I think to summarize, there are three key points that we covered. And the third one I'll expand on a little bit more. One is there's a, there's a mass change in worker preferences as it's evolving before our eyes. And now that business professionals have gotten a whiff of what working remotely looks like, because they're forced to do so, can't put that genie back in the bottle. So that's one number two is companies must, I think, rethink how work is done and adapt to worker preference changes so that they can access, the highest quality talent when and where they weren't. Right. And have, better outcomes, speedier outcomes at lower costs. So that's number two. And then three is the, I think there's this great unlock of business professionals that we, we didn't have a chance to truly unpack. I think we started to allude allude to it, but choice is a really difficult thing to nail down and specifically call out what is the pathway and deductive reasoning around accomplishing that. And I, you know, I brought it back to the business professional hierarchy of needs in the end. I think the future of work is one in which people are comfortable leaving full-time jobs and expressing their talents and their skills on their own terms. You know, I don't think we we've seen like, you know, those great resignation is what it's called right now. How are those people working in the future is a big question mark, I think 5, 10 years down the road, the number of skilled professionals, business professionals at firms at big companies within the finance and accounting industry is going to be significantly lower as I would say my, bigger projection, which I think we can unpack a little bit more if you want.
 Mitch: (21:57)
 Yeah. I mean, I'd be happy to hear more if you'd like to share that, you know, how do you see that unfolding?
 Michael: (22:05)
 So I'll just use my personal anecdotes and background. I mean, look like I was at Deloitte, and at the big four and you know, what I wanted to accomplish and the pathways of competition that were narrow. you know, I've used the analogy of, putting a round peg in a square hole multiple times here, but I think that was the case and leaving the, the big four and the safety net of income predictability, knowing what your future looks like, pathways to growth, that's all very well laid out and explicitly articulated, leaving that, especially for somebody who's conservative and risk averse and going out on your own or starting your own firm or freelancing or whatever it may be that that choice you're trying to pursue is frankly terrifying. Right? It's it couldn't be more scary, especially for, you know, a risk averse demographic. and so in this future of work that we're kind of talking about that choice is at the forefront. It is something that today is a gating mechanism in the future, I think is an opportunity. And specifically, if people feel like they have the safety net and comfortability to go pursue work on their own terms, however, that may be, then I think there will be a great shift away from full-time employment and more towards freelance, you know, fractional part-time on demand, whatever it may be. But that is the gating mechanism today. And I think part of what is holding back, finance, accounting, business professionals from pursuing work on their own terms.
 Closing: (23:56)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.