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Finance leaders are taking swift steps to invest and adapt to help their businesses navigate the unpredictable path ahead, according to new insights from some of the UK’s leading CFOs.

 The 2017 Global Business and Spending Outlook by American Express and Institutional Investor surveyed 100 senior finance executives in the UK, more than half of whom work for companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue. It gives an important glimpse into the thoughts and strategies of the UK’s most influential CFOs as the asks, and influence, of the CFO has never been greater.

 There is understandable caution in the market, given geopolitical events unfolding around the world. However, rather than tightening the purse strings, almost all the finance chiefs surveyed (99%) say their company’s spending and investment will increase worldwide during the next year.

 And CFOs are playing a central strategic role when it comes to mitigating the impact of ever-changing market conditions, indicating the evolution of the CFO into the Chief Flexibility Officer, with more responsibility but also more influence across the business than ever before. In fact, more than eight in ten (81%) say that the most senior financial officer wields more influence over strategic decision making than the CEO in their business.

 Boosting competitive advantage seems to be the main strategy for CFOs tackling the uncertain economic climate. Ensuring the organisation remains competitive is cited as the biggest business priority (67%) and 92% of CFOs are increasing spending to ensure this happens.

 To strengthen this competitive advantage, companies plan to spend more on customer service (67%), technology infrastructure (51%) and labour/headcount (48%). This is supported by reports of increased pressure to compete on the quality of customer service (84%), a focus on information security and how difficulties in hiring and retaining employees (sales and marketing staff in particular) are preventing businesses from hitting their goals.

 But finance execs are also investing in financial reporting and compliance (37%), production inputs (35%) and advertising, marketing and PR (31%) as transparency remains critical, prices rise and the battle for market share continues to wage. And 59% say exports are set to become more important for growth.

 Jose Carvalho, Senior Vice President, Global Commercial Payments Europe at American Express says: “CFOs in 2017 don’t just have to balance the books – they are having to tackle everything from automation to international trade, and plan their investment accordingly. The Chief Flexibility Officer isn’t just the guardian of the purse strings. They are absolutely critical to helping businesses survive and thrive, by investing in the right areas, in the right ways.”

 “We work with business leaders across the country to make sure they are set up for success today and in the future. As a result we know how important it is for finance teams to have tools at their disposal to help them operate and grow their business efficiently  and for them to deliver the strategic value we know will be so important for the rest of 2017 and beyond.”