Wage-cost savings cited as main reason companies automate in CFO survey

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Companies are adopting automation to replace labour as they seek to reduce costs, a survey of chief financial officers showed.

About half of financial decision-makers report implementing software, equipment, or other technology to automate tasks previously completed by employees, according to the survey conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta. The main reason to move toward automation was simply to save money — that dwarfed all other reasons given.

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“We find that companies that experienced higher wage bill growth in 2023 are more likely to have adopted automation,” the survey said.

The results suggest that these firms expect to see some return on their investment in the form of reduced pay expenses growth as soon as 2024. They also expect employment to grow more slowly over the next year.

Many United States workers have been winning higher wages from employers. And in many localities, minimum wages, or the wage floor, has been increased. That added cost may have been an enticement for more businesses to look for alternatives to labour.

Among firms that automated tasks over the past year, close to 40 per cent noted that this caused them to either slow the rate of new employee hiring, to leave open positions unfilled, or to lay off staff. This suggests that although most firms use automation as a complement to their workforce, a substantial minority view automation as a replacement for labour.

The firms that restrained hiring growth or reduced their workforce in 2023 expect employment growth this year to be near zero.

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The respondents who automated tasks include three quarters of larger companies with over 500 employees, and 44 per cent of smaller firms.

The survey was conducted between Feb. 20 and March 8.


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