U.S. Companies Ramp Up Automation and AI as Inflation Persists

June 18, 2024
The CFO Survey_Q2 2024_Duke University, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Nearly two-thirds of CFOs say their companies have a strategic priority to automate tasks typically performed by employees. Among firms that plan to automate in the next 12 months, a majority expect to implement AI to perform a wide range of tasks.

This according to The CFO Survey, a collaboration of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.

In a survey that closed on June 3, about 450 financial executives also indicate that their moderate economic outlook has held steady this quarter, though a majority expect higher than normal price increases for their products.

Over the past year, nearly 60 percent of companies (84 percent of large companies) have implemented software, equipment, or technology to automate tasks previously completed by employees. These companies indicate that they use automation to increase product quality (58 percent of firms), increase output (49 percent), reduce labor costs (47 percent), and substitute for workers (33 percent). Among the group of companies that have automated, 37 percent of firms (55 percent of large firms) specifically say they have already implemented AI.

“CFOs say their firms are tapping AI to automate a host of tasks, from paying suppliers, invoicing, procurement, financial reporting, and optimizing facilities utilization,” said Duke finance professor John Graham, academic director of the survey. “This is on top of companies using ChatGPT to generate creative ideas and to draft job descriptions, contracts, marketing plans, and press releases.”

Use of AI is expected to grow over the next year. Among the 60 percent of businesses that expect to automate in the next 12 months, 54 percent of firms (76 percent of large firms) plan to use AI to complete tasks previously performed by employees. 

Among their concerns for the next year, U.S. CFOs indicate monetary policy (interest rates), inflation, and challenges in finding and retaining the right employees remain their top three worries. Moreover, concerns about ongoing inflation are compounded by 57 percent of companies responding that they expect the prices of their products to increase this year at a higher rate than normal.

CFO optimism remains moderate, almost identical to last quarter, though small companies are less optimistic than large companies. Expectations for real GDP dipped slightly to 1.8 percent growth over the next 12 months, down from 2.2 percent last quarter.

In a special question, nearly one-third of CFOs indicate that because of uncertainty about the upcoming election, their companies are postponing, scaling down, delaying, or permanently canceling investment.

The CFO Survey is issued by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta. The latest survey, as well as historical data and commentary, can be found at www.cfosurvey.org. Sign up to receive email notifications when new results are posted.

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