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Deloitte survey reveals CFOs' cost and risk concerns

Oct 17
Tags: Deloitte
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Deloitte survey reveals CFOs' cost and risk...

Deloitte has revealed the risks, concerns and priorities that are dominating the thinking of chief financial officers at the moment. For its latest CFO Survey, the firm questioned 91 executives from businesses with a combined market value of £468 billion, including CFOs of 59 FTSE 350 companies.

The results showed that many businesses are taking a stricter approach to cost control and risk management, partly because of ongoing questions around Brexit and the state of the global economy.

Costs and spending

Nearly six out of ten finance bosses (58 per cent) identified cost control as a priority for the next 12 months - the highest proportion for ten years.

Furthermore, nearly half (48 per cent) said increasing cash flow is currently a key focus, up from 42 per cent in the previous quarter. The share of respondents who agreed that reducing leverage is a priority increased from 17 per cent to 19 per cent.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said the appetite for risk in the corporate world at the moment is "vanishingly low", with CFOs placing a greater emphasis on managing costs than expanding their operations.

There is also growing concern about slowing growth in the UK and the eurozone, leading finance leaders to tighten their purse strings.

Biggest risks

Only seven per cent of respondents to the Deloitte survey felt that now is a good time to take risk onto their balance sheets, while 65 per cent said their business is facing high or very high levels of external financial and economic uncertainty.

The impact of Brexit remained the biggest perceived risk to business performance, increasing marginally from 65 to 66 on a scale of 0 to 100.

However, the manner in which the UK leaves the European Union isn't the only worry for businesses, with many domestic firms also raising concerns about economic conditions at home.

Weak demand in the UK was ranked second on the list of major risks, with a rating of 62 out of 100, up from 54 in the preceding quarter. This is the highest level for five years.

There is also uncertainty about poor productivity and low competitiveness in the UK, which rose from a risk rating of 46 to 53 in the latest survey.

Reasons for optimism

It's clear there is a lot on the minds of CFOs at the moment, with Brexit continuing to dominate the picture. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of respondents said the long-term business environment in the UK will decline as a result of leaving the EU, although this was down from 83 per cent in Q2.

Richard Houston, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte north and south Europe, acknowledged that corporate risk appetite is being suppressed by a combination of Brexit and macroeconomic uncertainty.

However, he also stressed there are "some positives".

"Unemployment has fallen and earnings are rising at the fastest rate in more than a decade," he said.

"While it's unclear whether these trends will be sustainable, I do take confidence from the fact that businesses in the UK have long shown themselves to be adaptable and resilient to change. We now need clarity on what that change looks like."

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