BY Fraser Tennant
Optimism in the financial services sector has slumped alarmingly in the past five years, with firms citing market instability, sector competition and macroeconomic uncertainty as their top three challenges, according to the new CBI/PwC Financial Services Survey published this week.
The survey, a quarterly analysis of 104 financial services firms, reveals that banking and investment management respondents in particular had seen the sharpest slump in sentiment, while optimism across building societies and in the insurance sector was found to be broadly flat.
Drilling down, the survey shows that optimism in the financial services sector has fallen at its fastest pace for over four years, with 14 percent of firms more optimistic, but 35 percent less so, giving a balance of minus 21 percent. In comparison, the balance was 24 percent in December 2011.
“Concerns over China and a volatile start to the year for markets, alongside uncertainty about a possible Brexit, have created a perfect storm to dampen optimism in financial services,” said Rain Newton-Smith, the director for economics at the CBI. “As we know from talking to CBI members, now that the referendum date has been set some investment decisions have been put on hold by some firms, though this is not widespread.
“Investment intentions for IT remain resilient, but spending plans are being scaled back in other areas. Investments are increasingly motivated by the need to promote efficiency, while uncertainty about demand appears to be holding additional investment spending back.”
However, despite the findings, the survey does indicate that business volumes have continued to expand at a solid pace, and profitability has improved, albeit at the slowest pace for two years. Overall, business volumes rose at a decent pace, with 44 percent of firms stating that volumes were up, 18 percent saying they were down, giving a balance of +26 percent.
The survey also notes an increase in staffing levels in financial services during the last quarter, though this uptick is expected to flatline in the next three months, with insurance and building society sector staff increases being offset by losses within the banking fraternity.
“The lack of opportunities to generate revenue has shifted the focus of financial services companies to how they make their business models more efficient or effective - no easy task in such an unpredictable climate,” said Kevin Burrowes, UK financial services leader at PwC. “Despite the pessimistic mood in the sector, it is very encouraging to see that many financial services organisations are planning to up their game around talent attraction and diversity."