In the first of a series of CFO surveys, accountancy and business advisory firm BDO surveyed 200 CFOs and Financial Directors across the UK to understand how they perceive, prioritise and invest in automation

The report, New Economy: Investing in Automation, shows that senior leaders across the country expect automation to be pivotal to their businesses and employees’ development in the coming year. 87% have automated a key business process during the last year and nearly one in five (18%) CFOs view automation as their most important investment priority during the next five year. This is ranked higher than office and infrastructure (15%), mergers and acquisitions (0%). It is only investment in people (33%) and organic growth (33%) that ranks higher.

Professional services firms are among the biggest investors in automation, dedicating on average 12% of company spend towards implementing automated processes in the last year. This is ahead of the national average of 9%. In all, 88% of professional services companies have automated all or part of a key process in the past year.

18% of CFOs and FDs in the professional services industry say that automation is the biggest priority for the business in the next five years, ranking it alongside M&A and ahead of office and general infrastructure investment.

Firms are also investing heavily in training. 45% of CFOs and FDs agree that automation has led to an increase in spend on training, ahead of the 39% national average. Senior leaders feel that workers need to be trained up with developed skillsets to be equipped to use the new technology to complement their role.

In terms of an impact on jobs, professional services firms are relatively relaxed, with over half (55%) feeling it will have no change on jobs in their business. Going further, 55% also feel that automation represents an opportunity for their business, compared to 9% who think it is a threat.

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Neil Williams, partner at BDO says, “Professional services firms may not have been as visionary and enthusiastic as others in the past, but they are no longer the technology sceptics they were once considered to be.

“CFOs are clearly optimistic about the business potential of automation and technology, investing at levels above the national average in both staff training and new technologies.”

Additional research from BDO, also published this week, looks specifically at what digital transformation means in a law firm context.

As part of its Law Firm Leadership series, 50 CEOs and Managing Partners at leading law firms were surveyed and nearly half (47%) cited cultural change as the greatest barrier to becoming more digital or technology-enabled.

Nick Carter-Pegg, Partner and Head of Professional Services at BDO adds: “Cultural change is a broad subject with no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Breaking it down, it comprises of the new skills needed, the embedding of new ways of working and changing how investment decisions are made. Ultimately, it’s about a shift in the digital mind-set of professionals, both collectively and individually, and it will be critical for that change to be led from the top.”