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Are Gig Platforms Doing Enough to Promote Financial Inclusion?

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Are Gig Platforms Doing Enough to Promote Financial Inclusion?



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July 21, 2021

Comprising over 75 per cent of employment in Southeast Asia, gig workers provide the horsepower to fuel the region’s meteoric rise.

Defined by its speed and convenience, the gig economy consists of individuals providing services on temporary or short-term contracts. These can range from delivery jobs fulfilled by riders to consulting gigs provided by seasoned professionals.

The benefits of the gig economy have been well-trumpeted. For workers, there is the privilege of having flexibility and autonomy in their work. According to the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) report, the greatest benefit derived by workers is the additional income opportunities these jobs provide.

Meanwhile, businesses benefit from ready access to skilled labour – eight in 10 talent managers in the Asia-Pacific region report hiring or using gig workers.

While the value provided by the gig economy is clear, let us focus on the elephant in the room instead – that gig workers are not financially included. For the average gig worker, their earnings are often their main income source. However, the unpredictable nature of these earnings makes it difficult for gig workers to furnish a consistent income history.

This handicaps them in gaining access to basic financial services such as loans. Therefore, over 80 percent of gig workers borrow from their family and friends instead.

Gig workers

Friends and family are the preferred borrowing sources for gig workers. (Image Credit: UNCDF)

Root cause

However, the lack of income history is not the primary cause of this problem. Instead, it is the limited finances and financial literacy among gig workers.

As these workers enter the gig economy primarily to meet their daily expenses needs, they can rarely afford to save. In the same report, only 13 per cent of ride-hailing and food delivery riders in Malaysia indicated they have the desired financial freedom. Meanwhile, only 18 per cent are comfortable dealing with a financial emergency of MYR 1,000 (US$250).

Acknowledging this issue, Malaysia’s GoGet, an on-demand work platform that connects businesses and consumers with verified gig workers for flexible tasks like deliveries, introduced “Pod” – a micro-savings platform developed by local fintech firm SaphX Technologies.

Pod aims to cultivate a saving habit among its users by allowing them to directly debit a fixed amount into their bank accounts weekly.

However, its uptake among GoGet workers has been less than ideal. Only 1 in 6 reported using the platform. Those with higher educational attainment, earning more than MYR 60,000 (US$14,200) annually, and relying on GoGet as the sole income source formed the majority of Pod users.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of those who do not use it stated they did not understand how the platform operated, while another 40 percent cited insufficient money.

Raising wages

These figures point to two distinct challenges of providing digital financial products for gig workers – the exclusion of technology laggards and limited finances. While the former can be solved by improving usability, the latter is harder to tackle.

For gig workers to improve their financial wellbeing, they will need to increase their earnings. This can be realised by increasing the number of gigs worked or the commission earned per gig. The latter is a more sustainable approach. However, it remains to be seen if gig economy platforms are willing to sacrifice their commissions and profits for that to occur.

Meanwhile, Grab has rolled out a slew of initiatives targeted at increasing the financial inclusivity of its workforce.

Its GrabAcademy platform offers financial literacy courses by Standard Chartered. GrabInsure, the super-app’s insurance arm, offers usage-based motor insurance for drivers and delivery riders.

This allows them to pay for daily insurance only when they are working for Grab, with premiums starting from MYR 1 (US$0.25) per day. Grab claims this pay-per-use insurance is more affordable and accessible to gig workers.

The company also partnered with NTUC Income, an insurance co-operative in Singapore to launch a similar micro-insurance plan covering critical illness for its Singapore workforce. Its drivers and delivery riders pay premiums starting from US$0.10 per trip for a fixed amount of insurance.

To tackle the difficulty in accessing credit for gig workers, Grab took things into its own hands and launched a credit facility in Indonesia.

Workers can register for loans of up to IDR 5 million (US$350) with “affordable” interest rates. Loan repayments can be made daily via direct deduction from the worker’s digital wallet. The facility is available to 1000 Grab drivers as part of a trial phase.

Will there be financial inclusion?

For many lower-to-middle class gig workers, earnings from platforms such as GoGet and Grab often represent their sole source of income. Barely able to meet their daily expenses, these workers can rarely afford to save or purchase more sophisticated financial products such as insurance or investments.

While gig economy platforms have started to tackle these issues through initiatives aimed at increasing financial literacy and access, these are band-aid solutions at best.

To tackle the root cause of the issue, gig platforms need to pay their workers better. However, such a move seems implausible, given many of these platforms are still in the red. Until then, financial inclusion for gig workers will remain a far-fetch goal.


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Workers

Upskilling Gig Workers Is Top Priority: Youngest Unicorn Apna’s Founder

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Nearly 1.5 Lakh companies and startups are hiring from Apna but the magnitude of the challenge is herculean to solve as we see more and more success stories coming from the startup sector, Nirmit Parikh, CEO and Founder of Apna, tells Inc42

Apna’s mission is to upskill the rising workforce, especially gig workers, and make them adept with upcoming and emerging skills to disrupt the employment gap and hiring challenges faced by them, he adds

A job marketplace for India’s blue-collar workers, Apna is now the 26th Indian startup, and the fastest, to have entered the unicorn club this year, and overall the 68th Indian startup to have crossed the $1 Bn valuation

The Indian job market is going through a churn, especially amid the never-before-seen rise of the Indian startup ecosystem that requires more practical and soft skills. While unicorns and startups like Paytm, BYJU’s, Zomato, Urban Company, Udaan, PhonePe and several others constantly face the talent crunch, the challenge is accelerate the growth of startups by facilitating uninterrupted talent discovery and upskilling, feels Nirmit Parikh, CEO and Founder of Apna which has become the fastest unicorn in the country at a valuation of $1.1 Bn.

Apna, a job marketplace for India’s blue-collar workers, is now the 26th Indian startup, and the fastest (in nearly 22 months), to have entered the unicorn club this year, and overall the 68th Indian startup to have crossed the $1 Bn valuation.

Parikh tells Inc42 that currently, nearly 1.5 Lakh companies and startups are hiring from Apna but the magnitude of the challenge is herculean to solve as we see more and more success stories coming from the startup sector which is facing an acute talent crunch. 

“With the full swing of vaccination in the country, and the government’s encouraging vision towards entrepreneurship and gig economy, we see a lot of potential already. The healthcare, logistics and delivery, and facilities and security management sectors are already seeing an uptick in jobs as India leaves the pandemic impact behind towards an accelerated growth,” he emphasises.

Founded by Parikh in 2019, Apna provides communities for skilled professionals such as painters, carpenters, sales agents, among others. The platform claims to have grown 125X in the past 15 months and, at present, conducts 18 Mn interviews per month — from a million it recorded in August last year. 

The job marketplace claims to have served more than 16 Mn job seekers. At present, the platform has over 5 Mn jobs available and has more than 70 job categories and vertical communities. The job platform leverages a sophisticated algorithm that matches candidates with employers taking into account their skills, experience and preferences. 

Indian Startups Stares At Talent Crunch

Every startup is facing a higher attrition rate, not seen in the last couple of years, as more and more entrepreneurs, especially from the tier 2 and 3 cities, join the bandwagon. The talent crunch is so sharp that startups are looking for leads everywhere.

According to Parikh, they cater to the sector where more practical and soft skills are required compared to technical skills. 

“Apna’s mission is to upskill the rising workforce and make them adept with upcoming and emerging skills to disrupt the employment gap and hiring challenges faced by them. The key strength is its 70-plus virtual communities that offer access to upskilling and career enhancement,” he says. 

It is for this reason that “we continuously and consciously collaborate with premium institutions in skill development such as the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), Automotive Skills Development Council, UNICEF Yuwaah, among others,” he elaborates.

According to an employment outlook survey by Manpower Group which included almost 1,500 employers in India, in 2021, sectors such as ecommerce, finance, real estate, manufacturing are expected to see a huge surge in employment. In the group’s survey, 65% of employers showed positive signs of returning to pre-Covid hiring by August this year.

Clearly, while the pandemic and the following lockdowns had earlier led to massive reduction in employee benefits cost, this year there is a sharp rise in demand for skilled tech talent. Unsurprisingly, the spurt in hiring stems from the influx of funding for startups that have built a warchest for the talent war. 

Apna Aims To Bridge The Gap 

Apna, which aims to increase its footprint globally such as the US, South-East Asia, and Middle East and Africa, starting in 2022, thrives on the hyperlocal connect and the opportunities that emerge from it. 

“We are taking concrete steps to facilitate quality opportunities beyond metropolitans and Tier 1 cities to serve a larger user segment. Apna is already serving 28 cities in India and has a mission to reach 300 cities and 4,000 towns. Upskilling and access to employment as per the skills are the biggest problems that apna targets to solve,” Parikh tells Inc42. 

“We offer 100% verified jobs and connect the candidates directly with the employers building trust in our platform. This has given rise to a lot of life changing livelihood avenues including rising participation of women workforce and emerging gig economy,” he adds.

The startup had raised its Series A round worth $8 Mn in September last year and then raised $12.5 Mn in an extended part of the round in March this year. The round was led by Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital in participation with Greenoaks Capital Rocketship VC. Back then the platform was operational in only eight cities. The startup, in June this year raised $70 Mn in Series B led by Insight Partners and Tiger Global.

It has just raised $100 Mn in a Series C round led by Tiger Global, along with participation from Owl Ventures, Insight Partners, Sequoia Capital, Maverick Ventures and GSV Ventures, at a valuation of $1.1 Bn.



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Here is what the Indian film industry can learn from gig economy firms like Zomato and Urban Company

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  • Even though the ‘gig economy workforce’ is a new concept, the film industry has been working with such a model for decades.
  • The Indian film industry employed over 2.5 lakh people in 2017 alone.
  • Despite the unionisation of the Indian film industry that protects the rights of freelancers, there are a lot of issues left to be dealt with.

Gig workforce is the hottest new trend that has emerged with the rise of the digital economy leading to the advent of companies like Zomato, Swiggy and Urban Company. Widely overlooked, but the concept of hiring contractual employees has been around for decades, if not centuries.

That’s right. The Indian film industry has been one of the biggest employers of gig economy workers since its beginning. The Indian film industry employed over
2.5 lakh people in 2017 alone.

Business Insider hosted Academy Award winner and Indian film producer Guneet Monga and Urban Company’s cofounder Varun Khaitan in its Future of Work event — held on September 16 and 17 — to throw more light on the topic.
Monga said that the film industry in general has been employing several freelancers for decades, whether it is light boys, dancers, junior artists, art directors, cinematographers and more. The term gig workers has come up with the advent of the digital economy.

“It can seem unstructured, but it actually works very well in the freelance business there… There is a union in this segment and that brings about a structure. But there are also some major challenges that come with it,” she added.

She elaborated that the many freelancers have spoken about how difficult it is to get into the union or how expensive it is. Besides this, the segment does not get health benefits, does not come under labour codes and more, even though the payments are fixed due to the existence of a union.

Watch More: What film producer Guneet Monga talks about unionisation in Indian film industry and what challenges it presents

Khaitan, on the other hand, elaborated how Urban Company, an at-home services startup, has managed to overcome such challenges in the beauty and home segment. He noted that a salon or a service shop would employ 10-15 professionals and were essentially the “middlemen”, therefore a professional’s income would be capped.

Urban Company has not only offered a more flexible working environment, but also increased their take home income and offered them health benefits. Khaitan also noted that allowing these service professionals to get in touch with customers directly has provided them with more respect and business prepositions as well.

“There is actually a very high price point here [Indian film industry] even to become a part of the Union. And then there is a supply of enough and more people are constantly getting inducted, but there is definitely a bottleneck on how unions function. They do protect them [freelancers] in terms of providing for jobs, but the kind of structures that you [Urban Company] are talking about is still, I feel, not in the best shape here right now. And this has just been our industry that has been thriving on freelance,” Monga added.

She elaborated that while the Indian film industry has been striving for freelancers, it’s not with a vision of bringing people together or offering insurance or health benefits or looking into labour laws.

Watch More: What Urban Company’s Varun Khaitan had to say on the current conditions of freelancers in Indian film industry

Khaitan, sharing his experience, said “There are middlemen who claim to be good representatives and good samaritans of the workers, but are actually not. They are in some sense the heart of the problem, because a few things that just came up in this chat show there is no sense of balance between supply and demand in what is happening across the trade in the film industry and what that leads to is there is no sense of actual monthly earnings. So everyone just fights for what I can make on this job and it leads to an unheadly spiral.”

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MEPs demand equal rights for gig workers on digital platforms

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The EU is committed to reforming working conditions in the gig economy and wants to see companies take responsibility for health and safety, and algorithm transparency.

Members of the European Parliament have proposed updates to the European legislative framework to address the new realities of the gig economy.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday (16 September) with 524 votes in favour, MEPs called for gig workers on digital platforms to be given the same rights as traditional employees.

What the MEPs describe as ‘digital labour platforms’ includes tech-driven food delivery services such as Deliveroo, transport services such as Uber, and odd job services with similar platforms.

Companies operating in the gig economy have typically opted to class these workers as self-employed. But MEPs say this has deprived gig workers access to social protection and adequate labour rights.

‘We say yes to digital, but not at the expense of working rights’
– SYLVIE BRUNET

The European Parliament proposes to reverse the burden of proof so that, in the case of legal proceedings, gig workers should not be considered self-employed unless companies can prove there is no employment relationship.

This proposal also allows for those who wish be self-employed to remain so.

“Today, Parliament is taking another step towards protecting platform workers,” said French MEP Sylvie Brunet.

“Better access to social protection, improved working conditions, access to collective representation for the self-employed, clarification of their status, and the use of ethical algorithmic management are all issues that urgently need to be addressed at European level,” she added. “We say yes to digital, but not at the expense of working rights.”

What MEPs are proposing will extend gig workers’ entitlements to include social security contributions and the right to negotiate for better terms and conditions. It also demands that gig economy employers to take responsibility for health and safety.

This includes equipping gig workers with adequate personal protective equipment and ensuring those working in transportation and delivery have accident insurance.

MEPs are also tackling the algorithms that govern the working lives of gig workers. They insist that algorithms driving task assignment, ratings, pricing and deactivation procedures should be explainable, transparent, non-discriminatory and ethical.

Gig workers should also have the option to challenge decisions made by algorithms and human oversight must always be part of the process.

Previously, the European Commission committed to improve the working conditions of gig workers by the end of this year.

Legislators around the world have been working to formalise the employment status of gig workers.

Earlier this year, Uber lost a UK court battle on how it classifies its drivers. In February, the UK supreme court ruled that its drivers should be classified as workers and not independent contractors.

This month, a Dutch judge ruled the same in what was declared as a huge win for drivers’ rights.

US labour secretary Marty Walsh, who is expected to effect major changes to US workplace regulations, has also shown support for the classification of gig workers as employees.

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