Most CFOs are Ready, Optimistic for Digital Transformation this Year

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Findings from a new survey show that this year may come to be remembered as a year of change for corporate finance. From redefining the CFO role to the use of cutting-edge AI and other technology, there are a lot of reasons for finance teams to feel optimistic about the coming months.

CFO Research and AppZen surveyed over 200 CFOs, senior finance executives, and CEOs about their technology adoption for finance, along with how they are using automation, the benefits they perceive, and where they might find success in future adoptions.

The findings show significant levels of inequality in the technology and the benefits gained, as well as some interesting insights about the adoption of technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence.

Key findings include:

• Most of the surveyed executives - 61% - remain optimistic about the future, expecting growth in 2021.

• Reducing manual, time-consuming processes was a priority for 90% of the executives.

• The surveyed executives expressed regret for not investing more in advanced analytics, AI, blockchain, distributed ledger technology, machine learning and robotic process automation five years ago.

• The top challenge for digital transformation projects is support from C-suite executives, such as CEOs and chief information officers, according to the surveyed executives.

“Last year, we saw a huge acceleration of digital transformation in finance, and our research confirms that we’ll see even deeper transformation in 2021, championed by the finance organization,” said Anant Kale, CEO and co-founder of AppZen. “With CFOs taking an increasingly strategic role, the need for agility and incorporating technologies that accelerate companywide decision-making is imperative. Moving forward, we expect to see a rise in automation and AI among modern finance teams.”

The survey shows that automation will be a top priority moving forward. 90% of respondents agreed that reducing manual, time-consuming processes was a priority. For 51% of the surveyed executives, improving efficiency, reducing manual tasks, and reducing time spent on manual tasks were top priorities for finance - allowing them to support business continuity and resilience at their organizations. Improving cost savings opportunities was a top priority for only 32% of the respondents.

Technology adoption and digital transformation will change the role of the CFO for many companies. 86% agree there is a heightened need for CFOs to provide real-time, accurate and granular data to key stakeholders, meaning the role of CFO will overlap with traditional CIO responsibilities. It’s not too late. 45% of respondents wish they had invested more in tech. Advanced analytics tops the list of hindsight wants, with 67% wishing they’d made it a bigger priority. Specific wishes included: AI (42%), blockchain (41%) and RPA (43%), all areas prime for investment over the next 12-18 months.

“We share in the optimism for the year ahead and look forward to continuing to innovate and advance technology to help finance teams,” added Kale. “CFOs and finance leaders will not only benefit from leveraging AI, it’s all about reimagining and being open to change across the entire enterprise so efficiency, financial decisions, compliance, and accountability are front and center. This is critical as organizations undergo digital transformation.”

AppZen collaborated with CFO Research of Industry Dive to conduct the online survey, polling 211 CFOs and other senior finance executives with a mix of multiple-choice and open-response questions to better understand how CFOs are using digital transformation for business resilience and continuity. Most - 62% - of the respondents were CFOs, executive vice presidents of finance, senior vice presidents of finance, vice presidents of finance or directors of finance; the other survey respondents included CEOs (29%), chief accounting officers (4%), controllers (2%), and treasurers (3%).

The survey respondents represented companies with $100 million or more in annual revenues, with 65% in the $100 million to $500 million range, 20% in the $500 million to $1 billion range, 10% in the $1 to $5 billion range and 5% in the $5 billion-plus category. Companies represented a full spectrum of industry sectors, including financial services, business/professional services, construction, auto/industrial/manufacturing, healthcare, technology and wholesale/retail. Respondents were based in the U.K. (10%) and North American region (90%).