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Economy

Financial Technology Offers Independence, Peace Of Mind To Independent Workers

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Jessica Lilly
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Rebekah Lilly works in technology services at her home in West Virginia.

Even before the pandemic, there was an uptick in people working from home. This could mean an increase in contract workers and small business owners. New technology, training and tools are helping some independent workers in West Virginia adapt.

Daycare owner Amy Hubbard has degrees in education and experience as a childcare worker. For 21 years, she worked at an alternative school in Virginia called Boys Home. Despite her experience, starting her new daycare business was hard. For one thing, the equipment she first bought for this playground wasn't up to regulation.

“I made so many mistakes,” Hubbard said, “so many mistakes in the beginning and those were hard lessons, but I learned them.”

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Jessica Lilly
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Little Learners Educational Day Care opened in Greenbrier County in 2018.

Little Learners Educational Day Care got off the ground in 2018, and business is good. Hubbard faces other challenges, like how to save for her retirement. She’s not alone, according to a recent study funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission and managed by WISER, which stands for the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement. The study found that independent workers like Hubbard needed help securing three traditional employment benefits: tax withholdings, emergency savings and retirement savings.

“Independent workers, from child care workers to gig workers to small business owners, don't have easy access to benefits,” Diane Browning WISER’s Rural Retirement Project manager said. “It requires people to build their own safety net. From health insurance to retirement savings to life insurance - it’s a crazy patchwork trying to put that together.”

WISER partnered with a company that developed an app/digital platform called Catch.

“It’s called Catch because the safety net catches you,” Browning said. “They have a very easy online platform for accessing health insurance, retirement savings, emergency savings and a tax withholding product.”

WISER also partnered with organizations it knew worked with independent workers frequently, like Mountain Heart, a resource and referral agency in 30 West Virginia counties which helps subsidize childcare costs for low income families.

Hubbard trusts Mountain Heart, so she quickly signed up with Catch. It’s been a good start for Hubbard.

“I have chosen to utilize an IRA,” Hubbard said said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without their guidance. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do that, number one. And number two, I wouldn't have had the knowledge.”

WISER also partnered with farmers and tech groups such as Central App, a tech training firm.

Rebekah Lilly, a computer software administrator and developer who works from home,found training and work through CentralAp.

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Jessica Lilly
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Rebekah Lilly works in technology services from her home in West Virginia.

After 25 years working at a small computer software company, Lilly left her full-time, salaried job. Now, she works as an independent contractor for a company out of Chicago, from the comfort of her home in Raleigh County.

“I’ve had very little phone interaction with people,” Lilly said, “It's all through Teams meetings and I love it.”

After CentralAp shared information about Catch, Lilly found help towards financial independence.

“It’s set up for people like me who are in contractor positions who don’t have employer provided [benefits], like 401K options or health insurance,” Lilly said. “I knew I needed an account for taxes.”

It’s more than finding financial stability, for Lilly, it’s honoring her father’s teachings.

“He wanted us to be able to provide for ourselves…he said, ‘You never know when something will happen,” Lilly said.“He said I want to know that you girls can take care of yourselves.”

Corrected: January 10, 2022 at 6:27 PM EST
This story originally attributed the following quote to Diane Browning. It has been updated to correctly attribute the quote to Amy Hubbard.
“I have chosen to utilize an IRA,” Hubbard said said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without their guidance. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do that, number one. And number two, I wouldn't have had the knowledge.”

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