2014 sees a surge in economic optimism amongst UK CFOs with 93% anticipating modest to substantial expansion this year, up from just 50% in 2013After years trailing behind their international counterparts in anticipating growth, UK CFOs are now amongst the most ebullient about economic prospects in 2014, according to the latest American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor.
This marked reversal of fortunes sees UK CFOs sharing their optimistic high with India (86%) and Mexico (86%). Across Europe, the vast majority of CFOs (68%) are echoing the sentiment that 2014 is a time for expansion, though they are not quite as upbeat as their UK counterparts. In Germany, which has traditionally been Europe’s lone beacon of economic prosperity, 74% anticipate modest or substantial economic expansion to take place over the next twelve months, followed by 69% in Spain and 62% in France.
The findings in the seventh annual American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor are based ona sampling of senior finance executives based in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia.
Steady as she goes
While GDP growth, rising employment, and low interest rates have contributed towards this significant shift in the economic outlook amongst the UK’s financial community, caution clearly prevails as the survey reveals that this economic optimism has not translated into an aggressive spending agenda. In spite of the economic prosperity, three times as many CFOs(30%) in the UK plan to tightly control spending and investment as those(10%) who say they have aggressive spending and investment plans in place.
Furthermore, when it comes to hiring people it looks like Britain is set to retain the thrift culture adopted during the downturn for some while longer; just 30% of UK CFOs plan to spend more on headcount this year, while 37% will spend less.
However, while UK CFOs are following a relatively conservative spending agenda compared to their global counterparts, they still show significant appetite for making investments to drive longer term growth, specifically focusing on customer acquisition and retention. Heading the list for increased spending by UK CFOs in the next year are:
- Entering New Markets
- Business Transformation and Innovation
- Better Meeting customer Needs
- Remaining Competitive with Other Companies
CFOs are displaying a smart approach in navigating through the upturn in the economy. They are taking nothing for granted and are applying a rigorous approach to their spending plans, laying a strong pipeline for sustainable expansion now and in the future” said Brendan Walsh, Executive Vice President, American Express Global Corporate Payments.
On The Road
Despite advances in technology and interactive meeting solutions, most business people believe that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting when it comes to getting business done. But now it seems, even finance executives, traditionally keen to decrease discretionary item expenditure, are identifying business travel as a catalyst for growth.
This year’s study predicts the most widespread increases in spending on business travel since 2008, as companies work to carry out their growth plans, with almost half of the UK respondents (46%) stating they plan to spend more on business travel this year, and 93% agreeing with the sentiment that business travel spending was important or critical to their company’s success in the coming year. This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that Asia, Russia and Europe form the three main regions for expansion priorities of UK companies in the year ahead.
Globally and in the UK, CFOs see further opportunities for achieving costs savings on travel, which typically form a company’s third largest controllable expense after employment costs and technology. To reduce costs, CFO’s cite the following areas where they feel they could truly optimise their travel expenditure:
- Strengthening partnership programs with travel service providers
- Reduce the cost of travel
- Improving control of travel expenses
The research also identifies how the economic climate has reshaped the finance function within companies, changing its role from financial expert to that of strategic business advisor. Some 78% of respondents agreed with the premise that the financial perspective was either an influential factor or the determining factor when it comes to an organisation’s strategic and operational decisions. Furthermore, financial acumen is a skill that is deemed to be critical for all management, reflecting a more balanced approach to business building post the recession, with 71% of CFOs in the UK believing that their organisation’s management now have a good understanding of the financial impact of the decisions they make.
“UK companies are well placed to leverage both domestic and overseas opportunities,” continued Brendan Walsh of American Express. “Cost will be a determining factor and we can expect companies to place a higher premium on value as they plot their growth trajectories in the future.”