2022 CFO Study: the future of automation and intelligence within enterprise finance

Alexander Hagerup

Alexander Hagerup

Co-founder & CEO

Already revolutionizing accounts payable, automation is poised for accelerated adoption across finance and accounting.

July 11, 2022

14 min read

2022 CFO Study: the future of automation and intelligence within enterprise finance

While the power of automation has been proven for decades in industries such as manufacturing,  and more recently within business functions such as marketing and customer service, we’ve not yet seen the full  deployment and impact of automation within finance--but we’re on the brink of a paradigm shift.  

The nature of finance and accounting tasks, being repetitive and predictable, makes them well-suited for  automation. It’s a technology adept at identifying patterns and applying that information in a manner that is less  likely to miss discrepancies or anomalies. With automation in place, businesses can free up and better allocate  resources toward areas of greater value such as providing better-informed, data-driven strategic input or innovative  ideas. 

But for now, some challenges and concerns remain. While few finance organizations have completed their  automation journey to date, for a variety of reasons, many are well on the path to full automation. This means those  that have not taken the leap are not behind—yet—but the next couple of years is when we will see leaders begin to  break away from the pack and position themselves to win. 

A survey of 145 U.S. CFOs and finance leaders, conducted in partnership between StrategicCFO360 and in  May 2022, shows the pressure to automate the finance function in the near term is mounting. The challenge now,  CFOs say, is making it all work with the resources and systems they have. 


  • The plurality of CFOs recognizes the value of automating the finance function, with 61% reporting it has significant value  
  • 58% of CFOs plan to increase their investment in automation over the next 12 months, with nearly half expecting to achieve their goals within the next two years 
  • A quarter of CFOs polled report having already fully automated their payroll and invoice management processes, and approximately 45% say it’s underway in both 
  • The most common challenge faced by CFOs when automating the finance function is integration with their current systems, according to 61% of CFOs 
  • While increasing efficiency and productivity is by far the leading objective for CFOs to use  automation, over half of CFOs are also seeking to generate more insights 
  • When looking at data collection specifically, a resounding proportion of CFOs (81%) say they’re looking to optimize processes and resources with operational processing insights 


Throughout history, automation has been fundamental to creating new value by balancing people, processes, and  technology. Automation started in 1913 with the introduction of the automotive assembly line by Ford Motor Co.,  but really took off from the 1940s onward as Ford and other manufacturers introduced mechanical, electrical, and  eventually computerized processes to augment human effort and intelligence. 

The advent of semiconductors and the development of more advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI),  data analytics, and robotics has accelerated the adoption of automation exponentially since the 1970s. It’s gone from  conveyor belts to robotic toys and vacuums to self-driving vehicles. We are now entering a new phase of intelligent  automation that is changing how enterprises operate in optimizing processes, personalizing customer experiences,  and enhancing decision-making, enabling new levels of digital maturity—including within enterprise finance. 

According to our survey, 61% of CFOs see significant value in automating the finance function, with 32% rating  it a 5 out of 5, on a 5-point scale where 5 is “Significant,” and 29% rating it 4 out of 5. Perhaps unsurprisingly  considering the tight labor market, rising costs of operations, and threats of an economic slowdown on the horizon.  Automation directly addresses labor challenges by driving greater efficiency and productivity, reducing costly  errors (and therefore less manual rework), and eventually creating opportunities to reallocate resources in new and  smarter ways.  

Amid economic uncertainty, higher interest rates, and record-high inflation, there’s increased demand for companies  to show profitable growth. To achieve this, budgets are being tightened to show an improving bottom line, and  companies are beginning to decrease future recruiting to bolster financial stability through the storm ahead.  

With rising labor costs, among other expenses, there is an increased need for automation to help navigate the  current economic environment and come out ahead. Historically, enterprise software has been a safe investment in  rough markets, and cloud offerings avoid the expensive upfront investment while providing ROI and cost savings  after just a few months, so it’s an easier decision to make. 

Our survey data corroborates this point, with nearly 60% of polled CFOs reporting they plan to increase their  investments in automation over the next 12 months. There, indeed, appears to be a sense of urgency to take action.  Overall, 43% said they expect to have achieved their automation goals within the next two years, with an additional  10% reporting that they had already achieved those objectives. 

Change in automation investments/finance automation timeline

Unlocking the Benefits of Automation 

There’s no doubt that the rush to automation is warranted. Taking too long can put a company  at a competitive disadvantage given the accelerating pace of change in business and the need  to constantly identify and get ahead of new or shifting market trends. Companies that take early  steps to enhance their digital maturity in finance will be better equipped to make data-informed  decisions, work smarter and faster to remain competitive in a more volatile business environment.  

Across sectors, automation will enable finance teams to reach efficiencies that we can hardly  comprehend today, and CFOs must encourage and maximize these changes, not just for investors  and the longevity of the company but also for better utilizing employees—a company’s greatest  asset—by freeing them up to imagine bigger ideas and build better companies than ever before. 

According to our May survey, nine CFOs out of 10—and 92% of CIOs—agreed that their top objective  when it comes to automating the finance function is to increase efficiency and productivity. The  increased capacity AI brings makes companies more agile than ever before. Imagine a business in  an aggressive growth state, where invoices double year over year. Traditionally, that company would  have to initiate a cumbersome hiring process for new Accounts Payable (AP) clerks, which takes  time and is very costly. In contrast, AI solutions can absorb that additional workload—no additional  personnel required.  

In addition, accountants and clerks, once tied down to invoice processing, can instead rise to  higher-level tasks and growth initiatives. After all, invoice processing is the most time-consuming  and error-prone task in accounting. One of the main benefits of automation technology is that  it can work 24/7 with accuracy and consistency. Not to mention that eliminating mundane work  positively impacts job satisfaction, which is especially important as companies face unprecedented  employee retention challenges. According to IOFM (Institute of Finance & Management), nine out of  10 AP teams feel underutilized and think their time should and could be freed up for more strategic  initiatives. 

Generating more actionable insights from collected data and reducing errors are also important  benefits of automation for finance departments. Data from Accounting Today shows that 41% of  errors in accounting stem from humans, 28% of companies aren’t able to detect the mistakes but  report the wrong numbers, and large companies spend on average 10 days per week finding and fixing errors. Technology these days, and in particular AI, has become so advanced that it surpasses  human precision, reaching up to 99% accuracy. That translates to fewer errors, equaling less time  spent fixing errors and avoiding duplicate payments. 

Top 5 Objectives in Finance Automation

The Increasingly Strategic Role of the CFO 

Over the past decade, chief financial officers and finance leaders have become the CEO’s copilot,  providing insights for value-enhancing decisions. With leadership and business acumen, CFOs have  naturally grown into this role, as they continue to optimize their traditional finance function and add  non-finance initiatives to their responsibilities.  

Once focused on the past with transaction management, the most valued finance leaders now help  guide businesses into the future by focusing on profitable growth, with spend management being  an emerging and increasingly important capability. Instead of being reactive, finance leaders are  becoming increasingly proactive, as processes improve and more time is freed up for planning and  analysis or encouraging innovation. With the help of technology, the modern-day finance leader is  broadening their impact on organizations, playing a bigger role in strategy.  

To do that, CFOs have turned to the use of data for help. After years of collecting as much data  as possible, many companies have fallen into the trap of stockpiling data, without necessarily  understanding where it goes, how it’s used and how it can support or inform finance and business  strategy.  

The Process Mining Advantage 

Process mining is one of the first capabilities that comes to mind when talking about leveraging  data with greater intelligence. Back to the early industrial era, processes have been optimized by  measuring and applying data.  

Most early automation was used to improve process efficiency, which is still the main objective  for seeking better data and intelligence, according to 81% of the respondents. As organizations  build more digital literacy and skills, they reach new levels of digital maturity and can focus on  other strategic objectives, like improving company spending and optimizing cost expenditures  with spend and cost insights (59% of the respondents), and uncovering better insights on their  customers (55%).  

Spend management insight are getting more attention, but few people have a point of reference  into what spend management insights they need. It is worth noting that while other objectives  for seeking better data and intelligence lagged, there is early recognition that it can drive impact  in areas such as sustainability, for example, helping to identify ways to reduce carbon emissions  through improved spend management analysis. 

Automation not only provides significant process improvement, it can also give real-time insights  based on the millions of data points it processes and present them in a digestible, actionable  format. The AI can decipher how tasks can be executed more efficiently, identify process  bottlenecks, and proactively recognize potential inaccuracies or issues, such as flagging pending  due dates to avoid late payments.  

Without automation, teams would catch these discrepancies after the fact, if they catch them at all,  which is often too late to address the root causes. With automation, these teams can also access  valuable insights in spending data and buying patterns. This translates into real dollars saved. 

By using technology to leverage existing data sources, CFOs can reduce the manual work of  extracting, manipulating, and reconciling data from disparate source systems. While automation is  great for streamlining processes, data intelligence is the foundation for making informed, strategic  decisions to identify growth opportunities. This allows for smarter and faster business responses  and greater business resiliency.  

“Our firm is embarking on a digitalization journey,  taking advantage of the  tools already available  internally and exploring  new ones in the market.  Our vision is to become  a data driven, innovative  company, always looking  forward to integrating  business processes to market trends and  proactively responding  to the customers’ and  consumers’ needs.” 

—Survey Respondent,  Pharma Industry

It may seem obvious for CFOs to seek to unlock value for finance with automation, but the  

sentiment isn’t lost on other members of the decision-making process. Our research indicates that  

CIOs also see value in automating the finance function, perhaps even more so than CFOs, with 72%  rating it a 5 or 4 out of 5 on our 5-point value scale.  

Value out of automating finance function


The single largest determining factor in how smoothly a company adopts new technology is  the mindset of its employees toward technological change. Employees who recognize all the  opportunities posed by new technologies—not only for their department and their company  but also for their job satisfaction, skillset, and future career prospects—are much more likely to embrace and even spearhead these changes.  

Finance leaders play a huge part in illustrating this positive path forward by setting  expectations and providing a roadmap with a clearly defined North Star. A few considerations: 

  • Identify and equip your early adopters to become ambassadors. Once leaders have  identified their team members who are most excited about technological innovation,  they should equip them with the tools and messages they need to serve as ambassadors  for change throughout the department and the entire organization. These ambassadors  should be the first adopters. Their fluency in the new technology, paired with their  enthusiasm for change, will make them ideal teachers and go-to troubleshooters—helping  to ensure swift and smooth adoption across the board. 
  • Identify individual skillsets and re-train accordingly. Automation already liberates  accountants and clerks from redundant, menial work like data entry, approvals, and three way matching—freeing them up for more cerebral work that adds real value and can be  more rewarding. The best leaders plan for these opportunities by identifying and training  employees so they can take full advantage of that newfound time. But this work shouldn’t  be done in a vacuum—a conversation with impacted employees about their interests will  keep them more invested and engaged. Perhaps those with the best interpersonal skills  can devote more time toward negotiating with vendors or advising clients. Those with a  business mindset can help develop financial strategies for the organization. To guarantee  success, department leaders should work alongside HR to provide training that can help  their team members reach their full potential. 
  • Implement a culture with an embrace-the-change mindset. No matter how well a  company prepares, there will always be some degree of fear associated with change. Change is inevitable. And without it, progress is impossible. The difference between  success and failure—in our relationships, careers, and businesses—rests on our willingness  to embrace it. By helping employees feel respected, heard, and understood, leaders can  avoid much of the resistance associated with change. Help them believe in the positive  change coming. While daunting, automation is not slowing down—and it is going to open doors we never knew existed. 

“I do believe that automation is the way  to go. It is the only way  that brick-and-mortar  financial institutions will  be able to compete with  the fintechs and other digital form of banking.  We need to utilize AI to  the fullest.”  

—Survey Respondent,  Banking Industry


The benefits of automation are well understood by CFOs, as evidenced by our survey data, and progress  is being made to automate the finance function. But as more processes are prioritized for automation, the  challenge begins to shift to process integration to fully leverage automation across business functions. 

Automation Progress on Finance Functions

Seventy percent of CFOs say invoice management, for instance, is either already fully automated or on the path  to being fully automated. Automation within invoice management has been around for quite some time. There  are, indeed, well-proven time savings and reductions in error doing so. But there is a gap in knowledge about  how data analysis can be done with automation, and this highlights an area where it may be more challenging  for CFOs and business leaders to grasp what is possible.  

At the cutting edge, automation and AI are beginning to analyze and prescribe opportunities for cost savings.  As the system becomes more intelligent, it can compare an organization’s costs among peers and competitors,  identifying organization-specific cost optimization opportunities. Such intelligent solutions can fill a significant  gap in finance departments’ decision-making capabilities to help them make proactive data-informed choices  about their costs—including what they spend on specific vendors, subscriptions, consulting, advertising, legal  services, and more.  

Part of what’s holding back finance from automating across the board, according to the survey, is the challenge  of integrating automation solutions with existing applications and systems. Nearly two-thirds of CFOs listed  integration as a top challenge to their automation strategy. In other words, many organizations continue to deal  with so-called legacy systems that don’t play well with others.  

Within finance, there’s no room for error. The outcome needs to be 100% correct. If the deployment and  integration aren’t “bullet-proof,” it often becomes the reason for not doing it. Depending on the system, there  may also be significant costs associated with implementing automation (cloud systems being more affordable  and with less cumbersome onboarding), as well as a skills gap relative to both the integration and utilization of the technology.  

Innovation Technologies for Finance 

Finance professionals have been drastically underserved when it comes to technology innovation. As a  result, large enterprises spend millions to tens of millions of dollars per year on manual processes. When  looking at which part of the business to focus digitization efforts on, start by identifying bottlenecks  or where there is a lack of control due to manual processes. A good starting question is: how do we  automate routine tasks and improve the process? 

Four CFOs out of 10 say they’ve faced issues eliminating siloed processes across departments during their  automation journey. It’s important to look holistically when adopting new technology. Leaders need proper  buy-in from everyone who’ll work with the technology and who’s overseeing and handling its upgrading  and maintenance. When looking at implementing technologies, start by conducting a complete process  audit. Then, identify all products and technologies required to do the job with the desired outcome. Try to  include products and technologies outside of your normal scope to push the boundaries. 

Conducting due diligence, particularly for finding suitable technology, is key to this process. Here are  some critical steps to keep in mind when evaluating automation solutions: 

  • Determine the department or the process’ critical needs 
  • Identify the options on the market 
  • Assess the options based on set criteria for what the technology should solve • Ask for proof of concept, case studies and references 
  • Determine integration needs if the selected system works well with the existing tech stack 
  • Evaluate if you have the right talent in place to implement and run the technology—or if it will  require training, upskilling, or recruiting new talent 
  • Prepare for change management. It doesn’t end once a new system or technology is deployed;  that’s just the beginning of successfully adopting new technology 


The ultimate success or failure of implementing automation into finance can hinge on a few key factors,  so taking the time to assess these strategic considerations at the outset of an automation project can  mitigate challenges and roadblocks as the technology is deployed: 

• Align the organization’s automation strategy with its business priorities 

• Identify which processes are already automated, but still inefficient 

• Prioritize tasks according to how much time your team allocates to them each month

• Evaluate automation solutions for their functionality, scalability, and interoperability 

• Assess the solution’s user experience (UX) to ensure optimal utilization by employees 

“Developing a digital  transformation strategy  that provides linkages  to other functions and  enhances integration  and data flow is a key  factor in getting buy -in.”  

—Survey Respondent,  Non-Profit 


Our survey demonstrates that enterprise finance is at an inflection point, with three key  drivers of change. First, automation has become a mature and reliable technology-driven  by readily available compute power and huge advances in software intelligence.  

Next, enterprise finance is rapidly transforming into a more strategic function as pressure  continues to build for CFOs to align, and drive, financial strategy with business strategy.  And last, our increasingly volatile global economy has accelerated the need for finance  to be more agile and proactive in using data to identify the right financial levers to pull at  any moment.  

As we’ve already experienced in AP, automation is driving greater productivity and ROI,  while improving data-driven financial management by extracting real-time insights for  better and faster fiscal decision-making. 

Simply put, finance departments that fail to join the automation revolution will find  themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the not-too-distant future. Forward-thinking  finance teams that become champions for automation will truly drive change throughout  finance and accounting—and ultimately reimagine the role of finance in business.  

“Your automation journey  needs to be calculated  along with business  changes. Digital and  automation are going to  be drivers for the next  decade of the business  journey.”  

—Survey Respondent,  Tech Sector


In May 2022, StrategicCFO360 partnered with to survey CFOs and senior finance executives at  both private and public companies across the United States. The survey was distributed online, as part of  StrategicCFO360’s CFO Confidence Index poll, and fielded May 9-15. 145 CFOs participated in the survey.  Responses are confidential and only used in aggregate as presented in this report. Below is a breakdown of the  respondent demographics.

Ownership Type 

Public 18%

Private Equity owned 18%

Venture Capital backed 6%

Family Owned 32% 

Sole proprietorship 4%

Partnership 6%

Other 18% 

Industry Representation 

Advertising/Marketing/PR/ Media/Entertainment 3%

Construction/Engineering/Mining 8%

Energy/Utility 1% 

Financial Services (Banking, Insurance,  Brokerage, Investments) 7% 

Government and Non-Profit 8% Health Care (Providers and Payers) 6% 

High Tech/Telecommunications/ Information Technology 13%

Manufacturing (Consumer Goods) 4%

Manufacturing (Industrial Goods) 11%

Pharmaceuticals & Medical Products 5% 

Professional Services (Legal, Consulting, Accounting, Architecture) 6% 

Real Estate 2% Retail Trade 7% 

Transportation (Airlines, Trucking, Rail, Shipping, Logistics) 3%

Travel and Leisure (Hotels) 1%

Wholesale/Distribution 4%

Other 10% 

Company Size (by Annual Revenues) 

$1 Billion + 14%

$500 Million to $999.9 Million 7%

$250 Million to $499.9 Million 12%

$100 Million to $249.9 Million 12%

$50 Million to $99.9 Million 14%

$25 Million to $49.9 Million 13%

$10 Million to $24.9 Million 17%

$5 Million to $9.9 Million 6%

<$5 Million 6% is pioneering the use of autonomy and intelligence to digitally transform accounting and  finance processes to improve productivity, decision-making, and ROI. addresses the most  manual & inefficient task in accounting—invoice processing—to improve speed & scalability, enabling  customers to reinvent their accounts payable operations & improve financial management. For more  information, please visit 

StrategicCFO360 is powered by Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive and Corporate  Board Member since 1977. CEG exists to improve the performance of business leaders, build  communities and strengthen society. 

Chief Executive Group, a leading community for business leaders worldwide, exists to improve the  performance of U.S. CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CHROs and corporate directors. We publish Chief Executive  magazine (since 1977),, Corporate Board Member magazine (since 1998),,,, and, as well as produce research, conferences and roundtables that enable CEOs,  CFOs, board members and other members of the C-Suite to share experiences with their peers to  grow companies, build communities and strengthen society. Learn more at

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