Let this sink in: When it comes to choosing technology, 50% of senior finance executives consider themselves enthusiasts or early adopters.

This according to Bill.com and CFO Research, feels like a shift from the norm. While corporate finance leaders have become increasingly tech savvy, catalyst-minded, and willing to embrace forward-thinking technologies like AI, seeing that large of a number is surprising. But I didn’t write the study—I just report the facts, and the fact of the matter is that finance has gotten a taste for technology.

But this begs a few questions. First, was this a long time coming or was it a response to the new pressures put in place by lockdowns? Second, what challenges were leaders looking to solve? Third, what technologies were they evaluating or embracing? I’m assuming the rest of the great study from Bill.com will answer that.

Was the Shift from Skeptic to Enthusiast an Aberration or Was it a Long Time Coming?

As the study was completed in the latter parts of 2020, respondents had already adapted to the challenges placed upon them by the pandemic and lockdowns. Cost cutting and crisis management have been hallmarks of the corporate finance office in 2020, making an investment in automation technology a logical consideration.

But the question—was the pandemic the reason for change or the tipping point in a larger move? For the last decade, the four faces model has been pitched as the modern representation of finance. One of these four faces? Catalyst. As noted by Deloitte,

“CFOs can stimulate and drive the timely execution of change in the finance function or the enterprise. Using the power of their purse strings, they can selectively drive business improvement initiatives such as improved enterprise cost reduction, procurement, pricing execution, and other process improvements and innovations that add value to the company.”

Throughout the accounting and finance department, leaders have found more value in technology. After all, finance’s job is to focus on the bottom line, and this includes technology. Maybe the staff cuts and remote work were just the final push to get leaders over the edge.

Bonus: More and more senior finance staff see themselves taking on responsibility for technology decisions. Learn more in our 2020 Contemporary Controller Study.

What Were Leaders Looking to Solve?

Even considering the significant financial impact of the lockdowns, many leaders felt they were able to weather the storm and many more feel confident in the future of the firm. One third of the respondents say their companies will grow over the next 12 months, 48% say they are in a holding pattern and 17% say their companies will decline.

But those who feel more comfortable with technology are also the ones who feel that they have growth on the horizon. These are the ones who have been able to identify challenges and identify the tools they need to overcome said challenges. Accuracy, speed, workflow efficiency, and connectivity have all been cited as concerns, and these needs were exacerbated by the lockdowns.

No longer is a process handled by the person across the hall. Professionals have seen issues keeping tabs on the numbers—especially for those who have disparate workflows. This appears to be the reason that three in four respondents are evaluating and/or investing in workflow automation for AP and AR, while two in three have made investments in electronic payments.

The Push to Automate and Add Intelligence

As noted, payments, AP, and AR automation have been leading the list of investments. Another key area for change? Artificial intelligence and machine learning. The strong support for evaluating and investing in AI and machine learning—and the even stronger support for AP, AR and electronic payments technology—indicates that the pandemic has reinforced pre-coronavirus trends.

Bill.com notes:

“[…] the work-from-home requirements of the coronavirus economy has bolstered the case for adding technology, with AP managers, controllers and CFOs sometimes finding it difficult to coordinate even simple tasks from separate locations, especially when problems arise and coworkers aren’t available just down the office hall.”

Learn More: Concerns and Technology in Corporate Finance

What else is changing and how can you emerge from 2020 stronger than ever? What are your peers investing in? The entire study from Bill.com provides a lot more context into the shifting world of automation and the appetite for technology. Click here to download CFOs’ Appetite for finance Tech Undiminished.

Bonus: AP in Recovery, AP in Growth: Download AP Automation Buyers Guide Here

By saving time and improving the use of finance resources, AP automation can put you in a position where you can see more, do more, and get what you need. The Buyers Guide to AP Automation explores the wide range of benefits that AP delivers and helps decision makers understand and embrace a solution that works to deliver.

Working with Proformative, Bill.com collected 10 evaluation criteria for evaluating any AP automation system—with more than 50 questions your provider should be able to answer. This free guide is available to Controllers Council Members and non-members alike, and we invite you to download it here.

Additional Resources

Solidifying Accounts Payable on the Road to Recovery

New FP&A Expectations Set for Post-COVID Recovery

Pandemics and Paper Checks: A Pressing Threat for Businesses

5 Questions Controllers Should be Asking Their CFOWebinar Tuesday, October 26

As key financial leaders within the organization, Controllers are increasingly tasked with improving the efficiency of operations, implementing new technologies and guiding teams toward paperless workflows. To do this effectively, they need to work closely with their CFOs to drive the organization towards executable strategies that maximize the value brought by investment in technology.