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Ruben Salazar, Global Head of Visa Direct


6 - 7 Minutes

Payday, any day: How real-time payments can help shape the future of work

With independent contractors, freelancers, and gig economy workers making up an ever-growing section of the workforce, their needs are driving the rise of real-time, on-demand payouts. Ruben Salazar, Global Head of Visa Direct, explains why this has implications for all of us.

When a courier for SkipTheDishes, one of Canada’s most popular food delivery services, finishes a job, he or she no longer needs to wait for the first or fifteenth of the month to be paid. Now, the company’s tens of thousands of delivery couriers can access their earnings as soon as their drop-off has been completed, via an app feature called SkipTheDishes Fast Cash that lets them cash out to their eligible debit card.

The courier can access their earnings as soon as they want, helping to ease worry about covering the bills in between paydays – but the increasing prevalence of fast payouts in the working world has much wider ramifications.

At a macro level, the shift in how workers access their wages could positively impact economies to better reflect the global workforce.

Ruben Salazar, Global Head of Visa Direct, the real-time1 push payment platform which helps enable SkipTheDishes Fast Cash, explains we could see a phasing out of the spikes in consumer spending currently seen around traditional payroll dates.

"Traditionally people tend to spend in supermarkets, home improvement stores, restaurants, and other segments around the first and fifteenth of the month. But if the entire payroll system is modernized so individuals have access to their wages as they produce them, in the long run, we’re going to have more dynamic economies."

The New Working Model

Key to understanding the rise of on-demand payout options for workers is appreciating just how radically the workforce has changed. Workers are increasingly embracing flexibility and ownership of their schedules, a shift exemplified by the rise of gig economy workers – typically defined as performing work or "gigs" on an as-needed basis, usually booking their work via a mobile app or web portal.

"With many industries now relying on gig workers instead of full-time employees, we’re beginning to better understand consumers’ relationship with money from a totally different perspective," explains Salazar. "Independent workers in the gig economy typically act as unique, personal enterprises, and a key aspect of this is managing their cash flow effectively. And the traditional payroll model doesn't fit this new reality."

Take a delivery or car service driver: if a platform does not pay them immediately for a ride, their wages may be held by that company until payday, often with a week’s worth (or more) of work already completed.

And workers are not well-positioned to wait for their funds. Even before the pandemic, 78 percent of Americans lived paycheck-to-paycheck,2 and Visa found that 44 percent of surveyed employees had less than $500 saved for unexpected expenses.3 At the same time, they are in high demand as the recovery continues, with unfilled job openings reaching a record 9.3 million across the U.S. for April 2021.4

Real-time on-demand payouts can help address both the financial pressures of these workers and employers’ need to attract and retain those workers.

For employers, the potential benefits can be major, in terms of helping to attract new talent, foster engagement, and build loyalty among their workforce. In fact, a Visa survey5 revealed that two-thirds of surveyed workers would choose to work with a company that offers real-time, on-demand payouts over a company that relies on more traditional payment schedules.

Not Just A Side Hustle

Over the past decade, the gig economy has drawn in millions of workers worldwide. In the U.S., as many as 55 million people or 34 percent of the workforce were gig economy workers in 2018, growing to 43 percent in 2020 and expected to continue rising.6 The pandemic has reinforced the growth trend, as gig workers have been in demand to deliver necessities (and the not-so-necessary) to consumers spending much more time at home.

Despite often being viewed as a "side hustle" or secondary work, this is the primary income source for most gig economy workers (63 percent of surveyed gig workers, according to a Visa Direct survey).7 Additionally, many gig workers sign up with several platforms (3+ on average) but are active with only one or two. As a result, each company competes for its workforce, with gig economy workers reporting that they value the ability to set their own schedule, be their own boss, and – crucially – get paid quickly.

Companies are already adapting to this competitive reality. For example, popular ride-hailing apps have begun offering fast payment options for their drivers – a pattern that is beginning to play out across other industries and verticals around the world. In the future, allowing workers to access their earnings quickly will, as Salazar predicts, be "a necessity." Even if you like Company A, if Company B gives you a better cash flow, as an independent contractor you may want to move to wherever you can more quickly access your own money.

The reason that speed of payment is so important to gig economy workers becomes clear when considering that more than three in four (77 percent) of those surveyed by Visa8 had experienced times when they urgently needed more money, with 73 percent of those picking up extra gig work as the solution. No wonder then, that 89 percent of surveyed gig workers said they were likely to sign up for real-time payouts (through a debit card payment option) if available.9 For companies operating within the gig economy, this presents a new way to attract workers and retain the workforce of tomorrow.

Workers are also willing to pay for fast payouts, the research shows: 83 percent would pay for real-time payouts in emergency situations, and 58 percent would do so after every shift. As for how they received their payment, surveyed workers were most satisfied by debit card, over check, cash and digital wallet.10 "They recognize that receiving funds faster has a price and they’re willing to pay," says Salazar. "So, there is a model that works for the independent contractor and also works for the company who is moving money in their direction."

Fast Payments for Hourly Workers

While freelance and gig economy workers might be leading the way in take-up of real-time payouts, they are of course not the only workers who would like their earnings as soon as possible. In retail, restaurants, pharmacies, and elsewhere, hourly workers can now use a solution called Earned Wage Access (EWA) provided by earned wage access providers to access a portion of their earned wages in between regular paydays. This solution helps give workers access to the approximately $100 billion of earned but unpaid income held every week in the U.S., much from hourly workers living paycheck to paycheck.11

Workers who have access to this benefit simply need to download an app that allows them to transfer a portion of earned wages to their bank account in real-time using their eligible debit card. A pair of studies conducted in March and April 2020 by DailyPay, an on-demand pay provider, found that 90 percent of respondents confirmed that having access to their service during the pandemic reduced their financial stress, while – reinforcing the trends seen with gig economy workers – 56 percent said that they were motivated to pick up more shifts.12 Similarly, Visa found that 79 percent of surveyed workers would be willing to switch to an employer who offers these benefits.13

Quick Off-Cycle Payments

For salaried employees, real-time payouts can mean that staff no longer have to wait to access the funds they are due outside of the traditional payroll cycle, be that bonuses, commissions, expat allowances, or expenses. For instance, ADP, a leading global technology company providing human capital management solutions, integrated its Wisely offering with Visa Direct to provide ADP's clients with a digitally-enabled, convenient and cost-effective solution for employee off-cycle payments. This solution helps meet the needs of businesses in being a low-cost and easy-to-implement benefit, while also giving employees a faster and more intuitive way to be paid. As Salazar notes: "This is the kind of thing that, in later years, will make us say, gosh, why didn't we have this before?"

Fast Funds for a Dynamic Future

As for the future, he suggests that payroll systems will likely change more quickly than many expect, based on the speed of digital adoption over the past 12-plus months. As smaller merchants continue to adapt to the online shift and become more used to outsourcing functions like their web presence and ecommerce capabilities, he expects increased take up of innovative payroll solutions, too. This is not just something for big business, but for every company: "What we're seeing are very encouraging trends that will modify the way workers get access to their payments."

In the process, he sees workers becoming less reliant on existing tools such as high-interest short-term loans: "If you can get paid any time, you often don’t need to rely on loans in between pay periods."

And long term, with workers gaining more control, transparency, and access to their cash flow, our economies may start to more closely reflect this modern, dynamic workforce.

Last updated: October 2021

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1 Actual fund availability depends on receiving financial institution and region.
2 National survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder (2017):
3 Earned Wage Access Preferences Survey (2019). Commissioned by Visa and conducted by AYTM among 1,000 employees across the United States:
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021):
5 This research was commissioned by Visa and conducted online by Directions Research, Inc. from Dec 5, 2019 to Jan 6, 2020. The 2,326 respondents were gig workers, from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, France, Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, India, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia
6 International Labor Organization via Reuters (2021):
7 Visa Direct Gig Economy Research (2020). Commissioned by Visa and conducted online by Directions Research, Inc. from Dec 5, 2019 to Jan 6, 2020. The 2326 respondents were gig workers, from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, India, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
8 Ibid
9 Ibid
10 Ibid
11 PayActiv, The Cost of Waiting for Pay Study, March 2017:
12 DailyPay On Demand Pay Employee Usage Surveys 2020 (Surveys of 6,950 active DailyPay users, March and April 2020).
13 Earned Wage Access Preferences Survey (per footnote 3).

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