Sentiment recovers but outlook for financial services firms remains gloomy

Sentiment recovers but outlook for financial services firms remains gloomy

Sentiment among financial services recovered in the three months to December (+10% from -55% in September), despite gloomy expectations for activity in the quarter ahead, according to the latest CBI/PwC financial services survey.

The quarterly survey, conducted between 22 November and 9 December 2022 with 95 respondents, found that business volumes grew at a solid rate in the quarter to December (+24% from +31% in September). Employment growth recovered to a firm pace (+23% from -8% in September), while profitability was flat (-1% from +24% in September).

Looking ahead to the next three months, financial services firms expect business volumes (-28%) and profitability (-26%) to decline. Headcount is anticipated to be unchanged (0%).

The outlook for investment over the next year is mixed. While IT investment is set to grow over the next 12 months (compared to the previous 12), capital expenditures on land & buildings and vehicles, plant & machinery are anticipated to decline.

Uncertainty about demand was the key factor weighing on investment intentions in the year ahead (34% of firms from 17% in September).

Over 2023, the key trends driving disruption for firms are expected to be changes in regulation (85% of firms), high inflation (79%), and accelerations in digital technologies (70%). With the cost-of-living crisis spilling into the new year, the survey found that over two-thirds (70%) of financial service firms have initiatives to support consumer and/or commercial clients with inflation.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI chief economist, said: “It’s good to see optimism return to financial services in Q4. Unfortunately, this may prove to be short-lived as FS firms’ predictions look bleaker going forward, with business volumes and profitability set to fall over the next quarter.

“All eyes are now on the upcoming Spring Budget to see if the Chancellor can build on the stability provided by the Autumn Statement and deliver a concrete plan for growth.

“A fit and firing financial services sector is vital to the UK’s long-term economic success – that’s why we need business and government working together to safeguard the industry’s global competitiveness.”

Isabelle Jenkins, leader of financial services at PwC UK, said: “Despite the uptick in sentiment, it seems that this quarter’s results reflect the gloomy forecasts we’ve been seeing, with firms mindful of the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis especially as our research showed that the total amount of unsecured debt now exceeds £16,000 per household.

“However, the Edinburgh Reforms announcement has brought increased clarity for the sector on the UK’s regulatory agenda and the Government’s focus on green finance, technology and removing unnecessary regulatory burdens will no doubt be welcomed.

“As we go into 2023 following a period of relative stability for the industry, the focus will now be on ensuring that while economic conditions remain challenging, firms will continue to support both customers and employees through what may be another difficult year.”

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