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The changing world of work: why it is all about the money

The changing world of work: why it is all about the money

By Jeff Parker, SVP and Managing Director, International at Marqeta

The needs of the UK workforce are changing, and, due to inflation rising steadily and individuals experiencing significant pressure due to the cost of living, over 12 million people in the UK are now borrowing money for food or essential bills.  Over half of these people are doing so for the first time in their lives.

As the working population struggles with the rising costs of everyday items, innovation is needed to give workers back control of their finances and increased liquidity. We are seeing this in the fintech space, for instance, where more and more customers are looking for innovative credit options and comprehensive banking and budgeting apps. A desire also for speed and efficiency across areas such as payroll and treasury systems has driven a spike in demand for options like Instant Salary Payments and Accelerated Wage Access (AWA), new services that allow employees to be paid as soon as a shift or job is completed.

While society has continued to modernise how we pay for our goods and services, the way workers receive pay has not necessarily advanced at the same rapid pace. AWA addresses this imbalance by enabling employees to get paid earlier in the monthly pay cycle, helping to ensure better management of finances in a secure and cost-effective manner. So, if an unexpected cost suddenly arises, workers can access what they’ve already earned to bridge the gap, rather than turning to borrowing or credit.

On the face of it, services such as AWA appear to provide people with the access they need to cash, so that they can ensure greater financial resilience, but what are some of the considerations for consumers looking to manage their finances more effectively, and how is this likely to impact the financial services space more generally? 

The budgeting challenges for consumers

Research has found that in the last year, the cost of living crisis has led to consumers being increasingly budget conscious with almost two-thirds (63%) of those surveyed by Marqeta recently stating that they’d used credit cards to make ends meet. Consequently, the number of people who reported that they were struggling with their minimum credit card repayments was up from 27% in 2021, to 37% in 2022. We are also witnessing increased consumer fascination and engagement with options such as buy now pay later (BNPL) as a result of services that offer individuals more flexibility and less costly interest rates.

Many of those who have been struggling to pay bills have historically turned to payday loan providers which are often characterised by high interest rates with challenging repayment conditions. Payday loans have developed a reputation for dragging workers into harmful cycles of debt and borrowing.

In response to this, fintech innovation in areas such as AWA can provide an alternative which gives employees fast and secure access to their earned money, which reduces the need for credit while improving financial well- being and self-sufficiency. When offered responsibly, AWA can be seen as a positive development in financial services that is helping many workers navigate through challenging economic times. But, critically, how does it actually work and in what ways is it different to the classic ‘payday loan’?

Accelerated access = payday flexibility

Consumers can access AWA in a couple of different ways.

Firstly, direct-to-consumer AWA, which is often used if a workplace does not provide earned pay benefits, operates by charging employees a fee each time a ‘withdrawal’ on their salary is made, and thereby is functionally viewed a bit like a loan. The other option is where an employer offers AWA directly to their employees, often with the help of a third party vendor who is integrated with the employer to ensure a seamless process.

Unlike direct-to-consumer AWA products, employer-integrated AWA solutions allow funds to move directly from the employer to employee, allowing fee-free access to earned wages, bolstering the relationship between the employee and the employer, and limiting the exposure of a business to additional legal risks. Currently, with 40% of the working age population in the UK having less than £100 in savings – something which has been categorised as a ‘savings crisis’ – integrated AWA options such as these offer a solution outside of high interest loans so individuals can manage money effectively. 

Easier access to funds doesn’t always need to be used for home expenses, it can also be used to make working life easier, for example, paying for a tank of petrol with the money you earned that very same day if you’re a ride- share driver. This function is already being used in practice, for example, the launch of the Uber Pro Card, which offers drivers and couriers an enhanced loyalty and payments experience where earnings are automatically deposited to an account after each trip, free of charge. 

There are also perks for businesses offering these services as, due to more financial innovations hitting the market, savvy workers are increasingly interested in employers that offer AWA. With 13.3% of UK businesses experiencing staff shortages in 2022, perks such as integrated AWA are one way to attract and retain talent and combat employee churn.

Waving goodbye to the monthly paycheck 

In modern society, where faster access to funds matters more than ever, and traditional forms of payment are not meeting consumers expectations for limitless flexibility and instant access, AWA has the potential to upend the traditional monthly paycheck.

Implemented correctly with individual workers in mind, it offers a financial management solution to the cost of living crisis and times of economic hardship by helping people manage their finances in a secure and cost-effective manner. As a result, AWA can improve financial inclusion for many in the workforce, empowering some of society’s most vulnerable workers by helping them avoid advances to their paychecks that often come with steep fees. 

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