Why CFOs Must Focus on Closing the AI Trust Gap

Finance leaders should work to improve trust around AI to help improve adoption of the technology and enable digital transformation to achieve greater productivity, Workday CFO Zane Rowe said at the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos.

Two colleagues working on a tablet together in an office conference room

Potential enterprise uses of artificial intelligence and generative AI have garnered plenty of attention in recent months. AI is the next business game-changer, but if employees don’t trust what it can do and how it’s being implemented, your transformation efforts will stall. That’s why it’s important to pay attention  to the human side of the equation—and Workday CFO Zane Rowe sees an opportunity for finance leaders to bridge that AI trust gap.

“If you think about the opportunity that AI presents to everybody, it’s quite significant—and there’s a lot of excitement at the corporate level and at the leadership level,” he said in a recent interview at the 2024 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “But what the research highlighted, and maybe not unexpectedly, is a gap between leaders and corporate sponsors versus the average individual at a company.”

Rowe cited the Workday 2024 global study “Closing the AI Trust Gap.” Commissioned by Workday and conducted by FT Longitude, the survey of 1,375 business leaders and 4,000 employees across the globe found that:

  • 62% of business leaders (C-suite or their direct reports) welcome AI, and 52% of employees expressed the same sentiment
  • 23% of employees lack confidence that their organization puts employee interests above its own when implementing AI
  • 70% of business leaders agree AI should be developed in a way that allows for human review and intervention

For Rowe, the study’s findings present an opportunity for organizations to improve their relationship with employees.

“It warrants companies really understanding what that opportunity is for them, but then doing a good job and explaining that to the workforce,” he said.

The role of a CFO has always centered on data and numbers, as well as how that data is compiled and used to produce forecasts and financial reports, Rowe said. Technology, he added, holds the promise of greater efficiency and productivity, as well as value creation.

Watch video of the full interview with Workday CFO Zane Rowe.

“It’s really a time for company CFOs, in particular, to embed trust with that data so everyone at the company can understand how it’s being used and how important that is.”

headshot of Zane Rowe Zane Rowe Chief Financial Officer Workday

“What AI can do is enable us to do so much of that in far better ways and to think about: How do we grow that business?” Rowe said.

The promise of AI in finance requires leaders to imagine new ways of utilizing data to generate growth. It also means CFOs will need to build partnerships on the road to becoming finance futurists.

Rowe added that building trust is a critical component of that goal.

“As a CFO, how do we build credibility?” Rowe asked. “How do we think about transparency, and how do we communicate internally and externally—[about] the ways we’re utilizing that data in a transformative way?

“It’s really a time for company CFOs, in particular, to embed trust with that data so everyone at the company can understand how it’s being used and how important that is.”

Noting that Workday has clearly laid out its approach to responsible AI, Rowe touted the trust engendered with customers as a result of the company’s transparent approach. 

That trust component is an all-important part of driving AI adoption and doing so successfully.

“There's no doubt that there’s a lot you can do, but it really comes down to the fundamentals of data platforms,” Rowe said. “And if you don’t watch that trust gap, if you can’t have the average employee and the average leader really understand how things are being used, it’ll be challenging. It’s an endeavor that we all have to put at the forefront and think about what to do to help scale AI.”

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