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PROFITABILITY REMAINS STRONG AS FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS FOCUS ON COSTS – CBI/PWC

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PROFITABILITY REMAINS STRONG AS FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS FOCUS ON COSTS – CBI/PwC

Overseas level of business below normal, quarterly survey finds

Growth in business volumes picked up more strongly than expected in the three months to December 2015 and profitability continued to improve at a healthy pace, according to the latest CBI/PWC Financial Services Survey.

The survey of 100 financial services firms reported that the overall level of business remained “above normal”, despite the fact that the level of business with overseas customers fell below normal to the greatest extent for three years.

The quarterly survey also found that optimism within financial services rose only slightly, following more robust increases in the first half of 2015. Strong competition is bearing down on incomes, though tight cost control is helping to support growth in profitability.

Looking ahead, weaker growth in business volumes, flat income and rising costs are expected cause growth in profits to ease in the run up to March.

Meanwhile, employment prospects remain mixed, with banks reporting falling employment, compared with solid growth in headcount in the insurance and building society sectors. Overall, expenditure on training rose strongly in the three months to December.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Director for Economics, said: 

“Despite strong growth in profitability driven by easing cost pressures and increasing business volumes, the financial services industry is alive to downside risks from developments overseas. The global economic outlook remains uncertain while China rebalances, which is having knock-on effects on emerging markets, amidst continued unrest in the Middle East.

“While investment intentions remain robust in IT, and marketing spend is set to expand as firms seek new customers, elsewhere companies are curtailing their capital spending due to poor returns.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty within the financial services industry over the impact of Fintech. Firms in most sectors are looking to upgrade their own platforms over the next five years rather than acquire Fintech firms. However, partnerships with Fintech firms are seen as a high priority by companies in some sectors, particularly finance houses, insurance brokers and investment managers.”

Kevin Burrowes, UK financial services leader at PwC, said:

“We see the emerging trend of firms making more investment in new products. Another positive is that IT investment is moving from regulatory spend to front line systems to help overcome the rise of new competition.

“Also, it’s clear that optimism is muted across the whole sector and each sub-sector has its own challenges. Ongoing low interest rates, cost of floods claims, the continuing slump in oil prices and the domino effect of stock market volatility are responsible for the increased pessimism compared to this time last year.

“Cost reduction therefore remains a major focus but we see the issue of firms developing new products and making IT investments to fight off the rise of new competition as a new emerging trend.

“Against this backdrop, the growing spectre of cyber-crime looms large and the threat of major attacks continues to stalk the entire financial services industry.

“This is borne out by recent research which found that UK bankers and market watchers now put fears about cyber-crime at the top of a list of 24 possible risks to banks, eclipsing doubts about heavy-handed regulation for the first time.”

Key findings:

  • 45% of financial services firms said that business volumes were up, while 22% said they were down, giving a balance of +23%, an improvement on last quarter’s balance of +4%
  • Looking ahead, 30% of firms expect business volumes to increase, while 20% said they will fall, giving a balance of +11%, the lowest since September 2011 (+5%)
  • 14% of financial services firms said they felt more optimistic about the overall business situation compared with three months ago, while 8% said they felt less optimistic, giving a balance of +6%
  • 29% of respondents said that in volume terms their level of business was above normal and 18% said it was below normal, leaving a balance of +11%.
  • 8% of respondents said that in volume terms their level of business with overseas customers was above normal and 22% said it was below normal, leaving a balance of -14%.

Incomes, costs, profits:

  • Overall, 49% of firms reporting that profits had increased and 7% saying they fell, giving a rounded balance of +42%, suggesting that profitability grew at a faster pace compared with the previous quarter (+30%)
  • Income from fees, commissions and premiums was stable (balance of 0%), having fallen during the previous quarter (-20%), with little growth expected in the quarter ahead (+4%)
  • Income from net interest, investment and trading income was also broadly stable (-2%), the lowest balance since September 2012 (when it was -29%). Little change is expected over the next quarter (+2%).
  • Overall operating costs continued to grow (+12%), but at their lowest rate since the same time last year (-8%). Cost growth is expected remain fairly moderate next quarter (+11%).

Employment:

  • Training expenditure grew strongly (+37%), exceeding expectations (+24%) and robust growth is likely to continue in the next quarter (+36%).
  • 26% of financial services firms said they had increased employment, while 43% said that it had decreased, giving a balance of -17%, compared with +6% last quarter
  • Numbers employed are expected to fall a little further next quarter, but at a slower pace (-6%).
  • Based on the latest data from ONS, employment across the financial services sector is forecast to stand at 1.146m by the end of Q1 2016. This would still be 4,000 higher than in the same period last year, and 43,000 above the 16-year low reached in Q3 2013. However, it would remain 62,000 below the peak at the end of 2008, before the onset of the financial crisis, suggesting much of the lost ground has yet to be recovered.

The next 12 months:

In the year ahead, financial services firms expect to scale back non-IT capital spending, though investment in Information Technology and marketing spending is set to rise:

  • IT (+54%)
  • Marketing (+10%)
  • Vehicles, plant & machinery (-11%)
  • Land and buildings (-30%)

The main reasons for authorising investment are cited as:

  • Reaching new customers (cited by 63% of respondents)
  • Increasing efficiency/speed (61%)
  • Expanding capacity (%54)
  • Statutory legislation & regulation (52%)

Providing new services (52%)

  • For replacement (52%)

The main factors likely to limit capital authorisations are cited as:

  • Inadequate net return (cited by 59% of respondents)
  • Uncertainty about demand or business prospects (43%)
  • Shortage of finance (28%)
  • Shortage of labour including managerial & supervisor staff (25%)

The main factors likely to constrain business over the next year are:

  • Level of demand (cited by 65% of respondents)
  • Competition (55%)
  • 62% of firms see competition coming from new entrants – only slightly down on last quarter’s record survey high (64%).

Business

5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year

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5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year 1

By Fabio Comminot, Head of Dealing, Switzerland at Ebury, one of Europe’s largest Fintechs, has provided a five-step guide to make sure budgeting is done on time.

During the challenging times of COVID-19, it is difficult to forecast orders and costs. This is especially true for SMEs that operate internationally and therefore are exposed to currency fluctuations and market movements. So budgeting is immensely important.

Autumn is budget season for most companies. Upcoming project costs, sales and fixed costs must be defined or forecasted. Budget planning should be as accurate as possible right from the start of the process to avoid unexpected consequences at the end of the year..

With the effects of the COVID pandemic it has become difficult for all companies, no matter their size or history, to plan and make sales forecasts. Early planning and hedging are especially important for companies that work internationally and are therefore particularly exposed to currency risk.

These five steps will help SMEs take the right measures for the coming financial year, in time for budget season:

Step 1: Estimate your costs or sales in foreign currencies 

As difficult as it may seem, every company must estimate its expected fixed and variable costs for the coming year. Most companies can forecast their revenues based on experience or existing orders.

However, start-ups or young companies should also be able to at least estimate their costs including rents, insurance, wages and production costs. Special attention should be paid to costs or revenues that are spent or received in a foreign currency.

Step 2: Profit or cost assurance – define the strategy

As soon as an approximate plan for the coming year is in place, the company should consider the importance of currency management. Regular earnings or expenditures in foreign currencies are exposed to movements in exchange rates. If costs in a foreign currency are to be forecasted until the end of the year, the company needs to minimise volatility. This means that the exchange rate should be fixed so that there are no unexpected negative consequences at the end of the year.

Another option would be to protect the operating profit. Fluctuating exchange rates can rapidly ruin intended profit margins. In this case the company could aim to define the forecasted sales in the foreign currency and fix the margin based on this.

Step 3: Fix your budget rates 

The budget is set, the currency management goals are defined, the major part is done. Now it is a matter of defining the budgeted rates for the various currencies based on the current exchange rate. A buffer of about 5% can be useful when doing this – for example. instead of fixing the exchange rate from US dollar to Swiss franc at the current 91 cent, a rate of 95 cent could be budgeted. In this way, the minimum budget rate is defined and any negative exchange rate movement can be at least partially compensated for.

Step 4: Define the hedging strategy

With the targets and the budget course set, the next questions are: What currency developments can be expected? What is the industry outlook? Is the order situation relatively secure? Or is there practically no empirical data?

This step is where Ebury can support the company. Our experts in FX markets help answer these questions and begin to define the individual hedging strategy.

Step 5: Ensure a flexible fit

It’s done: the measures have been defined, now it’s time for implementation.

Ebury will implement the previous steps and , so that the company focuses on its core business. In contrast to traditional financial services providers such as banks, Ebury constantly monitors international trade and political events in order to assist clients with strategy adjustments. The Ebury team is supported by state-of-the-art technology and international currency analysts. It makes no difference whether the changes are driven by the currency market or whether the company’s order situation itself is changing. This allows the SME to focus on its operational business, which is worth a lot in uncertain times like these.

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Business

Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year

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Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year 2

Yolt launches evolved app to help shoppers save whilst they spend

  • Across the UK, consumers are set to spend £6.4bn on discount days
  • Despite the pandemic, 1 in 5 stated they would see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, revealing they will be likely to spend £240 more than they spent last year
  • Yolt today launches a brand-new evolution of the smart money app, which aims to help people save whilst they spend, saving a minimum of £416 a year
  • To help people spend smarter this Black Friday, the smart money app Yolt has a host of new features including round up functionality, and cashback offers with a wide range of retailers including John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s

New research* from Yolt, the award-winning smart money app, reveals that over a quarter (26%) of UK adults have said they are more likely to wait for discount days, such as Black Friday, to do their Christmas shopping than they were last year. In response to the pandemic and to help people shop smartly in the run up to the festive period, Yolt has launched a brand-new evolution of its app designed to help users to save whilst they spend. New features include the Yolt account and virtual Money Jar, as well as new cashback partnerships with the likes of John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s. The evolved smart money app can be used to save shoppers a minimum of £416** a year.

Despite the challenging economic climate, Yolt’s data insights from the first lockdown period in the UK showed that there were increases of up to 355% on spending in categories such as groceries, online clothing retailers, takeaways, and streaming and gaming services. On top of this, Yolt’s data revealed a change in consumers’ financial priorities – with many attempting to save in lockdown, but 65% not being successful in doing so. Therefore, to enable people to find the right balance in their efforts to save for any uncertainty that lies ahead, but also enjoy discount days such as Black Friday and festivities in the run up to Christmas, Yolt has launched a host of new features uniquely designed to help people save whilst they spend.

The evolved app comes at a time of challenging economic conditions, where more UK consumers are actively seeking discounts to try and balance the books this Christmas. Yolt’s research found that consumers across the UK spend an average £6.4bn on discount days such as Black Friday.

In total, over a third (35%) of UK adults said they would be looking to take advantage of upcoming discount days, with nearly one in five (18%) stating they do all their shopping for Christmas and birthdays on discount days and during sales. UK consumers said they tend to spend over £120 on days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and surprisingly almost one in five (19%) state they will actually see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, verses last year. Those expecting an increase revealed they will likely spend an average of £240 more on this Christmas when compared to last year.

Concerns around affording Christmas are perhaps leading more people to take advantage of Black Friday deals than in previous years. Almost four in ten (37%) don’t tend to set savings aside for Christmas, and almost a quarter (23%) said they are going to have to dip into savings that weren’t allocated for Christmas this year. Finding the right balance between spending and saving for future uncertainty is going to be an increasing challenge for people during the festive period.

Pauline van Brakel, Chief Product Officer at Yolt, comments: “Given the incredibly challenging times we are facing this year as a result of the pandemic; it’s perhaps unsurprising to see that people are more likely to wait until popular discount days such as Black Friday to help them to spend smart over the festive period.  Savvy spending in the run up to Christmas is always a good idea, and discount days can help ease what is for many a very expensive time of year – having said that, people should try not to overspend and risk getting themselves into debt.”

Pauline continues: “Finding the balance between spending and saving isn’t easy. And whilst it might seem like a difficult time to save right now it is also perhaps more important than ever. We’ve launched an evolved version of the Yolt app to help people save whilst they spend. The app enables people to spend smart by earning them cashback on their purchases at selected retailers and rounding purchases up to the nearest pound. Encouraging users to save is central to the app, not only by spending smartly but also by finding them competitive deals on their household bills and even spotting Christmas bonuses or refunds and prompting users to add them to their virtual savings jar.”

The new Yolt app is available from today, with full access to all UK users on iOS. Android will follow in 2021.

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday 3
  • Half (52%) of European consumers plan to do Christmas shopping around holiday sales, including Black Friday, compared to previous years
  • 60% say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online
  • A third (34%) plan on leaving their Christmas shopping until the last minute in hope of securing bigger discounts

As Black Friday approaches, European consumers are not going to let a turbulent year spoil their Christmas. As shoppers continue to adapt to the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are getting even savvier with their spending. New research from Kaspersky has found half (52%) plan to do more Christmas shopping around sales or shopping holidays, including Black Friday, compared to previous years. What’s more, a third (34%) plan on leaving it until the last minute in the hope of securing bigger discounts.

In a bid to enjoy Christmas while also adhering to COVID-19 social distancing measures, European consumers are focusing their attention away from physical stores to find their gifts. In fact, three-in-five (60%) say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online. A fifth (20%) go as far as saying they will make all of their festive purchases online this year, despite not usually doing so.

With online sales set to rise, Kaspersky’s findings also indicate that most consumers are not expected to scale back on their Christmas spending – despite economic recessions across the continent. Only a quarter (26%) of consumers are planning to reduce their Christmas shopping budget this year by at least a third or more due to financial restrictions caused by COVID-19. However, this figure rises to 30% amongst 25 to 34-year-olds, the age group most widely affected by pandemic-related job cuts.

Yet, as the number of consumers bargain hunting online rises, so does the amount of risks being taken to secure big savings. Only 16% are not willing to exchange their personal data for online discounts – despite the potential of falling victim to fraudulent websites and sales scams.

“The festive period is always a big deal, and never more so than this year, as people seek to redress some of the chaos the pandemic has caused throughout 2020. It stands to reason that people are looking to do the majority of their sale shopping online in a bid to stay safe, as well as grab a bargain. But we must also consider that where the crowds go, the criminals follow. Just as pickpockets flock to crowded areas hoping to get lucky, cybercriminals will be looking at consumer shopping trends and trying to exploit people’s eagerness to grab a bargain and save some money. So, my advice would be that people do their research, follow some basic common sense measures when shopping and avoid getting swept up in the tidal wave of hype as we seek to remedy 2020 with a happy festive season. One thing to always bear in mind is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” comments David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky.

Kaspersky warns bargain hunters to remain wary of potential Black Friday and festive season sales scams. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Shop online with confidence this Christmas by following our advice on avoiding retail scams:

  • Only shop with legitimate online stores. It’s always safer to type in the address yourself, or select it from your bookmarks, rather than clicking on a link. Use your browser address bar to check if the website you are visiting is genuine and secure and that they carry the padlock or HTTPS
  • Complete purchases through secure payment methods. Pay with credit cards or robust payment services so that transactions remain protected
  • Verify discounts. If you receive a sales discount via email or text, check the sender and any web links are legitimate before you click
  • Keep your device software and applications up-to-date and protect all your devices with a reputable internet security product. Cybersecurity solutions with behaviour-based anti-phishing technologies, such as Kaspersky Total Security, can send your notifications if you are trying to visit a phishing web page
  • Manage your passwords. Password managers can help you shop with multiple retailers by safely storing your credentials, so they are unique for all of your online accounts
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