UK financial services optimism falls but stronger times lie in wait, claims new survey

BY Fraser Tennant

Optimism fell across the UK financial services sector in the three months to September 2017, despite a broad expansion of business volumes and expectations of stronger quarters to come, according to a survey published this week.

The quarterly survey of 94 financial services firms by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and PwC found that while banks and building societies were markedly less optimistic, finance houses, life insurers and investment managers were more optimistic than they had been in the previous three months.

Among a number of key findings, the survey found that: (i) 12 percent of firms said they were more optimistic about the overall business situation compared with three months ago, while 18 percent were less optimistic, giving a balance of minus 6 percent; (ii) 28 percent of firms said that business volumes were up, while 15 percent said they were down, giving a rounded balance of plus 13 percent (this compares with plus 44 percent in June); and (iii) to the quarter to December, growth in business volumes is expected to accelerate, with 34 percent of firms expecting volumes to rise next quarter, and 7 percent expecting them to fall, giving a balance of plus 27 percent.

“While demand in the sector is expected to hold up in the near-term, we cannot ignore the fact that optimism has dropped in almost every quarter for the past two years,” said Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI. “With Brexit uncertainty affecting the wider economy, it is vital that substantive progress is made during the next round of Brexit negotiations, so that transitional arrangements can be agreed and businesses can make decisions now about investment and employment that will affect economic growth and jobs far into the future.”

In terms of the future of the financial services sector, survey respondents stated a need for action – including preserving access to talent and ensuring internationally focused regulation – on a number of fronts to ensure that the UK remains a leading financial centre.

Andrew Kail, head of financial services at PwC, concluded: “The financial services sector is at a crossroads. The way ahead is uncertain, particularly as Brexit negotiations are yet to be resolved. A coordinated action is now required by government, financial services firms and regulators to ensure the continued future success of the industry and its customers.”

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