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Financial services firms see growth

SCOTLAND'S financial services firms have continued to see steady growth in business volumes this year and are planning to take on more staff in the coming months, according to research that is published today.

The latest survey of the industry, compiled by accountancy firm PwC and business body CBI, showed investment intentions and optimism across the UK remained in positive territory in the first three months of this year.

According to the research, the only industry sub-sector not to see any growth was life insurance.

However, the researchers warned that the overall growth trend was not quite as strong as had been expected.

That was put down to the banking sector reporting relatively flat volumes against a previous expectation of robust growth.

Industry volumes were predicted to rise more strongly between April and June.

But the survey was carried out before the Budget so does not take into account the major changes that have since been announced in the annuities market.

While profitability grew in the first quarter of 2013, it was at a slower pace than in the previous three months.

Firms said a similar level of growth was being predicted for the second quarter of this year.

Steve Davies, PwC's Edinburgh-based UK head of retail banking, said: "The survey confirms that the industry is moving on from the restructuring triggered by the global financial crisis to a greater focus on addressing customer focus, regulation and technology.

"In Scotland, and across the UK, we're seeing more emphasis on behaviours and culture, especially within the banking sector, to help drive the primacy of customer needs in decision-making."

Intentions across all investment categories in the UK were positive, with IT likely to grow the most rapidly, with marketing not far behind.

Replacement of old equipment, expanding capacity, increasing efficiency and a desire to reach new customers were among the main drivers companies cited for investing.

Matthew Fell, CBI director for competitive markets, said the listing of greater competition as a potential business constraint showed how activity was intensifying.

He added: "It's particularly encouraging to see that investment intentions continue to be positive across the board for the second consecutive quarter, strengthening further in some cases.

"Businesses plan to spend heavily on IT and are scrambling to find new professional staff to meet growth demands."

The UK continued to grow at a similarly strong pace as the six-year high recorded between October and December last year.

A net balance of 38% of firms reported a growth in employee numbers in the first three months of 2013.

The survey suggested staff numbers were expected to expand even more rapidly in the coming three months, with a net balance of 46%.

The researchers estimate there will be around 26,000 additional financial service jobs by the end of June this year, compared to June 2013.

That would mean the industry was still 56,000 jobs below the peak it reached in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Mr Davies suggested that a drive towards more digital provisions could have positive implications for Scotland given its strength in the gaming sector.

He said: "One of the key drivers of change is customers' growing expectations of digital capability.

"Customers are demanding a more enriched digital experience from banks and insurance companies.

"Scotland has a vibrant, creative and innovative digital gaming sector; could Scotland's financial services industry draw on this digital capability to drive and lead this change in financial services?"

The net balance of optimism stood at 34% in the survey while business volumes were at 10%.

The research also showed the net balance of those expecting volumes to grow between April and the end of June came in at 46%.

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