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Community bank, fintech team up to serve gig-economy workers

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Executives at Somerset Trust Co. in the past year began to sense a business opportunity in the growing number of gig-economy workers — albeit a special brand of them — in the rural Pennsylvania counties it serves.

“There is a certain expectation when you talk about the gig economy that it only applies in an urban setting,” said Allison Cook Hoffman, vice president of marketing and customer experience officer at the Somerset, Pa., bank. “We don’t have Uber drivers here, but over-the-road truckers. It’s much more blue-collar, the mom and pop contracting company that doesn’t hire their employees but keeps them on payroll as a de facto freelancer.”

Gig-economy labor force

The number of challenger banks promising to help contractors and gig workers run their businesses is booming, and bookkeeping services that already serve this clientele are joining the fray by offering digital bank accounts.

Somerset Trust, founded in 1889, is trying something a little different to reach the same audience.

To help prospective customers with independent or side-gig income stay current on their quarterly taxes and track mileage and other deductible expenses, the $1.5 billion-asset Somerset partnered with RoamHR, a financial platform that assists the self-employed with such tasks, to layer these freelancer-friendly features on top of its existing accounts.

“That’s way different than what you are seeing a lot of fintechs doing by becoming a challenger bank,” said Rick Gonzalez, founder and CEO of RoamHR. “We’re turning the tables and saying these banks already have the customers, the existing relationships, the marketing and the service know-how.”

The partnership shows one route that traditional banks can take to improve their overall offerings for independent workers. PNC Financial Services Group’s “indi,” a mobile-only bank account for gig-economy workers that was developed in PNC’s fintech incubator, is a similar product.

“We try to give freelancers, contractors and the self-employed the same benefit a W-2 employee has where taxes are just managed for them,” Gonzalez said.

Somerset realized there was a market for this kind of service last August, when Gonzalez attended the bank’s annual FinTech Day, a community event where Somerset invites both vendors and customers to showcase its technology.

The bank initially saw this partnership as a way to draw in new customers and increase deposits, but it soon realized that many of its existing customers are self-employed or have a mix of W-2 and 1099 income. More workers are likely to turn to contract positions, or even multiple gigs, to get by as traditional employment dwindles.

After users open an account on the Roam Gig Suite landing page, which they can navigate to from the Somerset website or from social media ads, they can download the RoamHR app and log in to connect their primary checking and tax-withholding accounts. These accounts will be similar to accounts Somerset already offers.

When customers receive deposits in their checking accounts, RoamHR figures out how much tax should be withheld to pay quarterly taxes and automatically moves the correct amount to the separate tax-withholding savings account.

“The money moves in real time, like the bank is doing it on its own native mobile app,” Gonzalez said. The app can transfer funds and show balances because RoamHR connects directly to Somerset’s Fiserv core.

Right now, the product is meant for new customers, but the next phase will offer the same benefits to existing customers.

The product also tracks expenses and mileage, and enables users to send invoices from the app. Customers can categorize purchases from their checking accounts in the app as business expenses, and RoamHR will take those into account when calculating net earnings and the amount it recommends customers set aside for taxes. The app also uses the mobile device’s GPS to monitor business trip mileage.

RoamHR charges banks an integration fee and a small fee per active user per month, but it does not charge bank customers any fees.

“The biggest challenge for anyone who is self-employed or a gig worker is they’re not always sure when they can expense something,” Gonzalez said. “Our app helps them recognize what they can deduct and keeps track of those deductions throughout the year.”

The final piece is a “Gig Solution” debit card from Mastercard that offers discounts on software, automatic rebates at certain merchants and more.

Somerset Trust is the first bank to partner with RoamHR, and the service is set to launch on Aug. 17. The fintech says it has several other bank partnerships in the works.

“We have talked to a lot of banks and credit unions in the last year, and the initial reaction you get is ‘we don’t want to service the Uber drivers,’” Gonzalez said. “The reality is, this market is so much larger than that. These are good customers for financial institutions.”



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Here’s how you can turn your volunteering gig into paid work

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We talk to Volunteering Australia for some tips 

It’s no secret that volunteering can be a great way to give back to your community and a cause you’re passionate about, make friends, and broaden your networks and skillbase.

There’s also a chance that with a bit (or a lot) of hard work, time, and passion, your volunteering job can turn into paid work. 

But is there a right and a wrong way to go about doing this? We asked the CEO of Volunteering Australia, Mark Pearce, for some advice. 

Volunteer more than once 

It’s important to keep in mind that giving one random day of your time to a charity probably won’t land you an instant job. These things take a level of personal investment, so find a volunteering opportunity you enjoy, and stick to it.  

“Potential employers will view an ongoing volunteering role as having more likely impacted on skills development and work experience,” Pearce says. 

Be on the lookout for opportunity

Staying open minded about your experience as a volunteer is critical. If you go in expecting to get paid at the end of it, you’ll probably be disappointed. Instead, Pearce says you should keep your eyes and ears open for new contacts or opportunities that will help you find an entry point into the organisation. 

“Job seekers need to be mindful of the potential opportunities to gain work experience or to develop skills as part of the volunteering experience,” he explains.  

View it as a chance for self development 

The job market is particularly competitive at the moment and it’s easy to feel defeated when you’ve been knocked back from all the jobs you’re applying for. 

But volunteering comes with a whole range of benefits and can help you feel more motivated, confident and industrious when looking for work.

“Volunteering may assist in ‘levelling the playing field’ for individuals who typically have a more difficult time finding employment, especially during a recession or if lacking experience in a particular industry or role,” Pearce says. 



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Finding health insurance a headache for gig workers | Mid-Missouri News

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COLUMBIA – When Amy Crousore decided to become a full-time musician 3 years ago, she never imagined a pandemic would dry up her business.

Now, 8 months into the global health crisis, Crousore is reflecting on the struggles of the gig industry.

“Everything shut down and there was just no back up for us,” she said.

She said many of her colleagues were already taking day jobs before the pandemic just so they could receive health insurance.

Crousore has also taken up a job as a caretaker to make ends meet until venues reopen.

“We compared about 12 different healthcare plans,” she said. “I considered whether I would have to take a loan to pay for a more expensive plan.”

Health insurance is a headache Jason Gruender and Jen Wheeler know well.

Gruender manages Liberty Family Medicine with his wife, a doctor.

Wheeler manages Big Tree Medical Home with her husband, also a doctor.

Both clinics operate through unconventional business models that are less reliant on traditional insurance plans. Instead, you pay for a membership or one-time fees.

“We believe in our model, and it’s working well across the nation, and it’s working well here in Columbia,” Wheeler said.

Gruender is also confident in his clinic.

“I think we have a broken health care system,” he said. “The clinic is not a complete solution to that problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

As the world navigates a pandemic, the path to affordable health care has been riddled with troubles.

Crousore worries necessities like health care will alter the landscape of the music industry.

“Do you want there to be nobody you can call to play for your wedding because everybody is working 40 hours a week to get insurance,” Crousore asked. “What kind of world do you want?”

Gruender and Wheeler also said choosing a health insurance plan is an important decision that should be given lots of thought.

Enrollment through the Affordable Care Act is open right now and closes Dec. 15. There are other enrollment periods for special life events, such as getting married.

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Pendulum swings back to break lockdown lull with hometown New Year’s gig

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“During the whole lockdown thing it’s been kind of hard to put an original stamp on a set or a piece of live music; everyone’s been playing from their living rooms, everyone’s playing next to the f—ing fridge, so we had to come up with something new.”

The end result, an hour-long live-streamed performance at Spitbank Fort, was broadcast in October and also heralded the drum ‘n’ bass outfit’s first new material in a decade; the double-A side Driver/Nothing For Free.

Not being able to perform live has other pitfalls; even with their show at Spitbank Fort and a well-received global release, the group’s new material still hasn’t been tested in front of crowds.

“When we’re getting ready to release something always a huge component of it is playing it to small audiences, or sometimes even big audiences, and getting a lot of feedback from that, especially when it comes to Rob doing final mixdowns and stuff,” McGrillen said.

“That’s one thing we’ve definitely missed.”

Pendulum will be able to break free from the bonds of live-streaming soon and give crowds a full dose of new music with a homecoming headline slot at Perth’s Origin Fields New Year festival.

Billed as ‘Pendulum Trinity’ the group’s founding members – Swire, Gareth McGrillen and Paul ‘El Hornet’ Harding – are the first headliners announced alongside Australian house heavyweight Dom Dolla.

Based in the UK, McGrillen and Swire are very much ready to “do the whole quarantine thing” and fly to Perth to join Harding, who lives in the group’s hometown. With coronavirus cases soaring around the world, it seems there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

“Perth’s the safest place in the world right now,” McGrillen said.

It’s been a long time between drinks on the new music front, with Swire and McGrillen splitting off to form the electro/bass-driven Knife Party after Pendulum’s last album, Immersion, was released in 2010.

Pendulum shows continued, primarily driven by Harding, and when live shows returned in 2016, so did the ideas for new music under the Pendulum banner.

As with anything released in 2020, it’s tempting to read into the new tunes as inspired by the trash-fire year that was, but Swire said the roots of Driver/Nothing For Free came as early as 2016.

“I think current events might have added 20 per cent angst to the sound,” he said.

“Ten years is a nice round number and I sort of feel if you get away longer than that, you may as well not bother … we’d been doing the Knife Party thing for about 10 years, we always feel like switching it up.”

And while 2020 marks the first new Pendulum music in a decade, it is also another milestone; 15 years since the group’s explosive debut album, Hold Your Colour.

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The release still holds a special place for fans and the group alike – “the tracks on it still feel kind of magic,” Swire said – but at the time the trio didn’t know whether they had a hit or a flop on their hands.

“It was a weird time for us, we’d only been in England for about two years when we wrote it. In retrospect, it’s kind of the sound of culture shock and sleep deprivation,” Swire said.

“I think the first time we knew this whole thing had some longevity to it was when we made the next album (2008’s In Silico).

“We sort of switched the style and it still works and we thought, ‘Well, we’re onto something’, because we’ve brought all these new fans in who don’t even like drum ‘n’ bass.”

There’s a temptation, listening to Driver/Nothing For Free, to draw parallels between the tracks and the distinct styles between Pendulum’s earlier releases.

Driver, as the name suggests, is a fast-paced drum ‘n’ bass anthem; a heavy, rolling beat setting the pace for buzzsaw basslines interspersed with breakbeat clatters. Nothing For Free, on the other hand, features sing-along hooks rising to a rocking, headbanging crescendo, reminiscent of the outfit’s later albums.

So, is this a conscious effort? Or a by-product of almost two decades producing forward-thinking, genre-blending electronic hits?

The latter, largely.

Swire and McGrillen agreed they never intended to follow their earlier work too closely, but when inspiration strikes, well, sometimes it just pans out that way.

“It somehow just organically falls into either [style]; you get a sense halfway through, you get a sense like, ‘This sounds like kind of a Hold Your Colour tip’, or you can tell it’s a new style,” Swire said.

Pendulum will perform at Langley Park on Perth’s foreshore on New Year’s Eve. Tickets and information at originfields.com.au.

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