Deloitte CFO Survey: CFOs set to rein in costs but still see growth opportunities


Chief financial officers (CFOs) see increasing risks to their business from Brexit and a slowing UK economy and are reacting with a renewed focus on cost control, according to Deloitte’s latest CFO Survey. However, domestic concerns have not blunted CFOs’ search for growth and opportunities.

  • Domestic concerns top CFOs’ risk list, with Brexit concerns mounting
  • Focus on cost control highest in eight years
  • Despite uncertainties CFOs remain determined to grow their businesses

One hundred and 12 CFOs of FTSE 350 and other large private companies participated in the Q4 2017 CFO Survey. The combined market capitalisation of the 83 UK-listed companies who participated is £512bn, approximately 19% of the UK quoted equity market.

The survey ran between 3rd and 15th December 2017.

Uncertainty rises, domestic concerns dominate

Brexit remains the top concern CFOs say their business faces, giving it (on a scale of 0-100) a ranking of 62, up from 58 last quarter. Brexit is followed by weak demand in the UK (59, up from 53) and weak UK productivity (49, up from 43).

Thirty-eight per cent of CFOs say there is a high or very high level of uncertainty facing their business, up from 35% last quarter but down from 50% one year ago and well below levels seen during the euro crisis and in the wake of the EU referendum.

Brexit concerns increase

Seventy-three per cent of CFOs say they expect the overall business environment to be worse following Brexit, up from 60% in Q3 and the highest reading yet, but in line with levels seen in Q2 2017.

Forty-one per cent say they expect hiring within their business to slow as a result of Brexit, up from 36% in Q3, while 39% expect their capital spending to decrease, up from 30% last quarter.

CFOs focus on cost control, but see growth opportunities

Fifty-one per cent  of CFOs say that reducing costs is a strong priority for their business over the coming 12 months.

However, CFOs have not shifted away from growth. The priority CFOs attach to expansion over the next 12 months, whether organically, through acquisitions or introducing new products or services or moving into new markets, is at its highest level since this question was first asked in 2009.

Optimism and risk appetite dip slightly

Eighteen per cent of CFOs say they are more optimistic about the prospects for their company than they were three months ago, down from 27% in Q3’s survey, though above the average reading for the last two years.

Twenty-one per cent say now is a good time to take risks onto their balance sheets, down from 24% in Q3. Risk appetite has been broadly unchanged since the end of 2016.

Interest rate rises expected

Just 15% of CFOs expect interest rates to remain at 0.5% in one year’s time, down from 50% last quarter, with 85% expecting rates to be at, or above, 0.75% by the beginning of 2019.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said: “In a world of accelerating growth and buoyant equity markets, domestic risks loom large. Reining in costs can help CFOs mitigate these risks.

“Despite December’s agreement to move forward to trade talks with the EU, CFOs' concerns about Brexit have mounted and it remains at the top of the list of risks for business in 2018. Weak UK growth follows as the second greatest risk facing business this year, with concern about UK productivity in third place.

“CFOs enter 2018 more focused on controlling costs than at any time in the last eight years. Despite this, CFOs are more optimistic today than they have been in the last two years and perceptions of uncertainty are far lower than during the euro crisis and following the EU referendum.”

Paul Schofield, practice senior partner at Deloitte in Cambridge (pictured), said: “Encouragingly, far from backing away from growth as they did in previous periods of uncertainty, CFOs are putting more emphasis on expansion. The priority CFOs attach to expansion over the next 12 months, whether organically, through acquisitions, introducing new products and services or moving into new markets, is at its highest level since 2009. It seems that an accelerating global economy is helping to counter the effects of uncertainty close to home.

“While the impact of Brexit remains the dominant concern for CFOs, it has not forced a retreat from growth or crushed the animal spirits of the corporate sector. The central challenge for UK business over the next 12 months will be achieving growth in an environment of stringent cost-control.”


The Deloitte Cambridge office comprises 7 Partners and over 250 staff who deliver a full range of professional services to the East Anglian region. As well as focussing on the life sciences and technology sectors for which the region has become so renowned, the office has long standing specialisms in other sectors including the professions, consumer business and agriculture.

Deloitte LLP