Financial services firms report strong business growth but sober optimism in new survey

BY Fraser Tennant

Financial services firms are reporting strong growth in business volumes and improving profitability, according to the latest CBI/PwC Financial Services Survey published this week.

The quarterly survey, which reflects the views of 100 financial services firms in the three months to December 2015, reveals that the overall level of business remained “above normal” – despite the fact that business with overseas customers fell to its lowest level in three years.

The survey also found that although there was a marked increase in optimism in the financial services sector in the first half of 2015, this had risen only slightly by the year’s end due to the impact of strong competition on incomes (though tight cost control has helped to support a growth in profitability).

Key findings in the CBI/PwC survey include: (i) 45 percent of financial services firms stated that business volumes were up, while 22 percent said they were down; (ii) 30 percent of firms expected business volumes to increase, while 20 percent said they expect to see a fall; (iii) 14 percent of financial services firms indicated they felt more optimistic about the overall business situation compared with three months ago, while 8 percent said they felt less optimistic; and (iv) 29 percent of respondents confirmed that, in volume terms, their level of business was above normal, while 18 percent stated that it was below normal.

Despite strong growth in profitability driven by easing cost pressures and increasing business volumes, Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Director for Economics, is aware of the downside risks from developments overseas. She said: “The global economic outlook remains uncertain while China rebalances, which is having knock-on effects on emerging markets, amidst continued unrest in the Middle East.

“While investment intentions remain robust in IT, and marketing spend is set to expand as firms seek new customers, elsewhere companies are curtailing their capital spending due to poor returns.”

Over the next 12 months, the survey forecasts that financial firms expect to see weaker growth in business volumes, in addition to flat income and rising costs. In the meantime, employment prospects remain mixed, with banks in particular reporting a fall in employment.

“It’s clear that optimism is muted across the whole (financial services) sector and each sub-sector has its own challenges," commented Kevin Burrowes, UK financial services leader at PwC. “Against this backdrop, the growing spectre of cyber-crime looms large and the threat of major attacks continues to stalk the entire financial services industry.”

Report: CBI/PwC Financial Services Survey December 2015

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