A survey by Gartner has revealed that 62% of CFOs and 58% of CEOs believe that AI will have the most significant impact on their industries in the next three years.

The Gartner survey of 247 CEOs and CFOs was conducted to examine CEO and senior business executive views on current business issues, as well as some areas of technology agenda impact.

“CFOs and CEOs are both focused firstly on profitable growth with nearly two-thirds of respondents in both groups putting this in their top three strategic business priorities,” says Alexander Bant, chief of research in the Gartner Finance Practice. “After that, technology and workforce are the next highest priorities – with approximately a third of respondents selecting these in their top three.

“While AI has enormous potential to transform industries, three years is a short time horizon to do so. Senior executives must manage their expectations and be fully aware of the organisational challenges they will face.”

CFOs and CEOs are similarly aligned on growth, with both groups selecting it as their top business priority for 2024 to 2025. For CFOs this does not mark a huge change from their 2023 priorities, but for the CEO group, the number of respondents picking growth in their top three priorities has jumped 38% since last year.

The sentiment regarding cost management deviated this year, however, with a significant increase in CFOs seeing it as a top priority but little change in CEO sentiment, which may be due to CEOs being more likely to give longer leeway on internal investment payback periods than CFOs.

“To address these differences while keeping organisational growth a priority, CFOs should align with their CEO regarding digital investments, risk appetite and cost cuts that support growth,” says Bant. “CFOs should discuss the drivers behind their CEO’s flexibility on investment time horizons. For many companies, this likely relates to the longer timelines that transformational investments in technology require to deliver returns.”

CEOs and CFOs are also concerned about talent shifts, citing employees’ rising compensation expectations and desire for flexibility in the short-term – and the impacts of AI in the long-term. Both are optimistic about AI’s potential to boost cost savings and productivity, but more CFOs than CEOs hold concern about near-term talent challenges.

“CFOs should provide insight on new approaches that bridge talent gaps while creating cost savings such as ‘quiet hiring,'” says Bant. “To address talent shifts or attrition when pay increases are not feasible, CFOs can make the case for flexible work policies that employees prefer.”

Finally, almost 75% of CEOs see environmental sustainability as more of a growth opportunity, whereas CFOs are more likely to view sustainability initiatives as marketing tools.

“As an initial step to reconcile their position, CFOs should determine whether their CEO’s sustainability ambitions call for compliance, optimisation, or transformation,” says Bant. “After which, CFOs should revise their investment evaluation criteria to take these goals into account – such as by incorporating non-financial criteria, as well as opportunity costs and the costs of inaction.”