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Deloitte European CFO Survey: Despite uncertainty, CFOs remain confident of long-term growth

15 November 2016

  • Optimism remains flat and uncertainty remains high among Europe’s CFOs
  • But CFOs remain confident businesses can weather uncertainties and grow 
  • 37% say Brexit negotiations will be bad for their business, with particular concerns around regulation, mobility and trade barriers

Despite continued uncertainty and concerns about the economic and business environment, Europe’s chief financial officers (CFOs) remain optimistic about the potential for their businesses in the coming year, according to Deloitte’s latest European CFO Survey.

Deloitte has collated the results of surveys run by its member firms in 17 European countries for the Q3 2016 European CFO Survey, giving the views of 1,148 CFOs.

Uncertainty remains elevated
67% of Europe’s CFOs say that there is a high level of financial and economic uncertainty facing their business, down 1 percentage point since Q1’s survey. These perceptions are highest in the UK and Germany, where 88% of CFOs report high uncertainty. CFOs in Finland have the lowest levels of uncertainty, with just 36% reporting high levels of uncertainty and Russian CFOs saw the largest decline, down from 72% in Q1 2016 to 47% in Q3.

Limited appetite for risk
Just 28% of CFOs say now is a good time to take risk onto their balance sheets, down from 29% in Q1. 50% of CFOs in Russia are willing to take risk, the highest across all countries, but no country has a majority of CFOs willing to take on risk. CFOs in Austria have the lowest risk appetite with 11% willing to take on risk. Italy saw the largest decline in willingness to take risk, down from 59% in Q1 to 36%.

CFOs still positive on revenue growth
When asked how they feel about financial prospects for their company compared to three to six months ago, 26% say that they are more optimistic, up from 25% in Q1. Just 16% of UK CFOs say they are more optimistic, the lowest across all countries, while the highest levels of optimism once again came from Swedish CFOs with 44%.

However, despite high uncertainty and low risk appetite, 65% of CFOs say they expect their company’s revenues to grow in the next 12 months, up from 63%.

46% of UK CFOs say they expected revenues to increase, the lowest across all countries, while 83% of Polish CFOs forecast revenue growth, the highest.

Italy saw the largest drop in revenue optimism since Q1, down from 82% to 68%.

Hiring and capex outlook softens
32% of Europe’s CFOs say that capital expenditure is likely to increase for their companies over the next 12 months, down from 36%. UK CFOs are the least willing to spend with just 7% planning to increase capex, while 75% of Irish CFOs say they are planning to increase spending.

A similar picture emerges on hiring with 32% of CFOs saying they plan to increase the number of employees in the coming year, down from 34%. UK CFOs are the least willing to hire, with just 9% willing to increase job numbers, the lowest, while 62% of Irish CFOs plan to increase hiring, the highest across all countries.

CFOs on the defensive
CFOs in 75% of the countries participating in this quarter’s survey said that a defensive measure was their top business strategy for the coming year, up from 63% in Q1. In 11 of the 17 countries CFOs cited cost control as their main priority.

Brexit and political risk
37% of CFOs said that the negotiations on the UK leaving the European Union will have a negative effect on their business, 50% said it will have no impact while 5% say it will be positive.

Negative sentiment is highest in the UK, where 65% believe Brexit negotiations will be bad for business, but also caused particular concern among CFOs in Portugal (52%), the Netherlands and Ireland (both 48%).

CFOs in 16 countries (not including the UK) were also asked which aspect of a potential Brexit will most affect their businesses, and respondents in 14 countries said that increased complexity and cost of regulations would have the largest impact. Restrictions in workforce mobility and decreased export opportunities due to non-tariff barriers were also cited.

Overall, in nine out of 16 countries responding, geopolitical and economic uncertainty was listed as the top risk facing business over the next year, while weak domestic demand was cited as the top risk in four countries.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte UK, said:
“Despite a challenging business environment, CFOs are confident that their business can cope and grow revenues over the next 12 months. In part this is down to businesses becoming more accustomed to uncertainty and more used to managing it.

“But it also shows the underlying resilience of Europe’s corporate sector, which has endured years of slow growth and shocks but started to show signs of a more sustained recovery this year. European GDP growth is forecast to be 1.6% this year, while low that would still be the third consecutive year of growth for Europe, the first time that has been achieved since the financial crisis.”

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive at Deloitte UK, said:
“Businesses across Europe have contended with a number of political shocks over the summer, reflected in high levels of uncertainty.

“Brexit features prominently among these shocks, with over one-third of Europe’s CFOs saying the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU will have a negative impact on their business. Concerns around regulatory change are the biggest concern but curbs on workforce mobility and export opportunities are also cited as risks to European businesses.

“However, Brexit is not Europe’s only concern. Political uncertainties of varying degrees, from Spain to Turkey, upcoming elections in France and Germany and now, of course, the outcome of the US elections, weigh on the minds of business leaders.”


Notes to editors

This is the fourth biannual Deloitte European CFO Survey.

The Survey collates the findings of surveys conducted by Deloitte member firms in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

In total, 1,148 CFOs took part in these surveys, conducted between August and October 2016.

Percentages used in the report are weighted by GDP to provide accurate comparisons, taking into account individual countries’ GDPs in relation to the total GDP of the 17 participating countries.

The full survey results, including country-by-country breakdowns, and previous surveys are available to view at

About Deloitte
In this press release references to Deloitte are references to Deloitte LLP, which is among the country's leading professional services firms.

Deloitte LLP is the United Kingdom member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), a UK private company limited by guarantee, whose member firms are legally separate and independent entities. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.

The information contained in this press release is correct at the time of going to press.

Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.

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