Cost control is top worry for finance chiefs

Controlling costs is the number one concern for UK finance bosses, who have a mixed opinion of Britain's economic future, according to an Icas survey.

The accountancy body asked finance directors and chief financial officers to report their top ten most pressing issues, with worries over controlling costs taking the top spot, growing revenues the second biggest concern, and recruitment and retention issues rated third.

Cyber security and fraud prevention also made the top half of the table in fourth and fifth place.

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When questioned about the future of the UK economy, opinion was split, with 50 per cent forecasting “flat or negligible” growth, below 1 per cent, for the UK and 41 per cent predicting “modest” growth, classed as between 1 and 2.5 per cent. Negative growth fears have dropped from 16 per cent in 2017 to just 2 per cent in this year’s survey.

In the 2014 study, as many as 82 per cent were confident of growth over 1 per cent for the coming year, but that figure plummeted to 14 per cent in 2016, after the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Half of all respondents reported increased hiring in 2018, with only 18 per cent reporting a decrease in new hires. Almost a quarter of those who participated expected to see redundancies in their organisation in the remainder of 2018, up from 17 per cent in last year’s study.

The survey, commissioned in partnership with accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael, also asked respondents to share what they see as the biggest impact of technology on their role. Common themes included big data and data analytics, automation cutting out routine manual processes and the increased threat posed by cyber security and malware issues.

One significant trend is that cyber security continues to hold a place in the top five issues.

Andrew Walker, partner with Johnston Carmichael, said: “While we can’t sit back and wait for events to unfold, organisations need to take time to understand what the workforce of the future will look like, and take a fresh look at their attitudes to talent, to ensure whatever investment they make in people shows fairly quickly on their bottom line.”

Icas chief executive Bruce Cartwright said: “Historically, controlling costs, growing revenues and recruitment and retention have consistently been finance directors’ top priorities.

“But with the increasing reliance we all place on information technology and the ever-increasing array of threats, from ‘distributed denial of service’ attacks to targeted phishing by fraudsters, it’s perhaps no surprise that cyber security features in the top four headaches.”