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CFOs view AI as a growth driver but uncertain where to begin

Despite nearly half of CFOs (45%) saying they plan to invest in AI to drive growth this year, nearly double (89%) have doubts about their company’s ability to successfully implement an AI strategy, according to a global CFO survey from Coupa.

The research finds that many CFOs are still wrestling with economic uncertainty and complexity as they look to the future. Nearly all (90%) remain concerned about hitting growth and revenue targets within the next 6-12 months – unchanged from last year – specifying that high interest rates, rising energy prices, and supply chain disruptions are among the greatest external threats to their business. In addition, two in five CFOs (39%) say their biggest obstacle is keeping up with AI advancements as the rate of innovation outpaces human scale and traditional process efficiency. 

CFOs are AI-hungry, but hesitant

CFOs are grappling with a contradicting reality. They’re eager to use AI but don’t trust it and don’t want to risk infringing on strict privacy laws. Yet, they’re captivated by AI’s potential to transform their operations for the better. 

The survey shows that CFOs see AI’s value in cutting costs, increasing productivity, and growing efficiency. Specifically, they’re keen to make AI investments in the following areas this year: AP automation (34%), procurement (31%), third-party risk management (29%), and contract management (28%). 

They’re also planning on investing in generative AI (genAI) solutions to improve fraud detection (37%), workflow process optimisation (36%), supplier evaluation (35%), and contract development (32%).

Successful AI adoption requires cross-functional collaboration, responsible deployment, and access to the best data. CFOs play a pivotal role in fostering a culture of accountability, transparency, and ethical decision-making to navigate AI’s complexities and unlock its full potential for competitive advantage.

Blinded by data, paralysed by legacy systems

Elsewhere, the research suggests that CFOs are being blinded by the very data that’s supposed to empower them. Nearly one in two (46%) say they lack full visibility into financial data across the company. Almost half (45%) say they need to log into multiple systems to access all of their company’s spend data. Even worse, 22% say it takes multiple days across systems to access it, and 40% say their financial data is often outdated. 

“In today’s digital supply economy, the volume and complexity of financial data continues to grow exponentially,” said Kevin Burns, CFO, Coupa. “Without the right platform and technologies, viewing this data and extracting meaningful insights in a timely manner remains a significant challenge that can be detrimental to an organisation’s performance.”

Given the complexity of the macroeconomic climate and today’s dynamic and uncertain supplier relationships, it’s critical that CFOs embrace AI-driven analytics to respond faster to disruption, uncover opportunities, and use data and AI to increase operating leverage for their business. “That’s how strategic CFOs will ensure they’re making the most informed, profitable decisions to fuel their organisation’s growth amidst a continuously changing environment,” added Burns.

Compounding complexities escalate risk management

A significant lack of confidence exists in the ability to maintain compliance standards across several regulatory aspects. More than a third of CFOs said data protection (36%), financial regulations (35%), and cybersecurity compliance (34%) cause them the most concern.

These doubts are compounded by the constantly evolving regulatory landscape, with new compliance requirements such as the SEC climate disclosure rule, UK SOX compliance, and e-invoicing mandates across Europe. Failing to comply leaves a company vulnerable to risks and data breaches and can destroy business reputations.

CFOs do see AI as a potential solution to compliance risks and challenges, and nearly one in three (28%) are specifically planning to invest in AI for regulatory compliance.

“To keep up with the dynamic regulatory landscape, CFOs must be proactive in mitigating fraud risks and managing compliance challenges,” commented Burns. “It’s crucial that CFOs prioritise AI-driven solutions to gain the agility and precision needed to stay compliant and steer around risk while managing capital for durable growth. Embracing these technologies isn’t just about driving efficiency; it’s about safeguarding your organisation’s reputation and long-term viability.” 


This survey was conducted among 500 CFOs and finance leaders in the US, UK, Ireland, France, and Germany. The survey was carried out online with an email invitation between November and December 2023 by Wakefield Research on behalf of Coupa.

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