THOUSANDS of posts are expected to be axed from financial services companies in the first three months of this year even though firms are complaining that a dearth of staff in high-demand roles is limiting the business they can do.

There was warning that Scottish firms face a challenging economic landscape.

The research found this was the third quarter in a row that employee numbers fell, with another 18,000 positions expected to go in the first three months of 2013. This means that some 132,000 posts will have disappeared from the industry, which employed more than 1.1 million in the autumn of 2008.

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Meanwhile, the numbers of companies complaining that a shortage of qualified professionals is holding back their business is at the highest level since March 2006 as top staff abandon financial services and the disgraced banking industry in particular.

Kevin Burrowes, UK financial services leader at accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: "What we are seeing is businesses exiting certain product lines or certain geographies."

Yet, while this is occurring firms are desperate to hire experts in particular areas such as regulation and compliance who can help them with new rules.

Nearly one-third of the 94 companies surveyed by the CBI reported the availability of professional staff as a factor likely to limit business levels over the next year. Another 37% said shortage of labour was likely to constrain investment, the highest proportion since June 2007.

Many are leaving the industry, weary of its poor reputation, while it has become less attractive to those joining the workforce.

"People are choosing to leave the industry," Mr Burrowes said. "We cannot underestimate the impact that is having on the workplace."

He added: "Good compliance officers are like gold dust."

The financial services industry should learn from sectors like oil and gas about how to develop staff and encourage staff loyalty rather than relying on big bonuses to keep them happy, he said.

Most of the companies surveyed by the CBI saw business volumes fall over the past quarter of 2012, the second consecutive quarterly fall. Most had expected a rise.

But cost cutting as well as widening in the spread between deposit and lending rates helped profits rebound having fallen in the previous quarter

Meanwhile, there was a significant rebound into optimism after six months of negative views on the industry's prospects.

Catrin Thomas, financial services partner at PwC in Scotland, said: "We welcome the banks' return to optimism and their positive outlook in terms of revenue and profitability."

But she warned: "We have seen similar surges in confidence in the past only for the industry to be disappointed as they deal with the unrelenting challenge of regulatory reform combined with issues such as skills shortages and growing capital challenges."

Most firms expect to increase marketing spend this year and to put more money into information technology, although their ambitions in this area have been scaled back.

They plan to spend less on land and buildings and vehicles, plant and machinery in the year ahead.

Ms Thomas said: "The economic environment remains challenging for the financial services sector in Scotland. If we are to reach our potential, it is crucial businesses continue to demonstrate their ability to cope with these challenges and requirements while proving they can be transparent, deal with limited resources and compete in highly competitive environments."