The poll at our annual CFO and Audit Chair dinner in London included household names like Standard Chartered, Rolls Royce, TSB, Balfour Beatty, British Airways and Centrica.

42% of the respondents said the preferred outcome of the Brexit negotiations for their companies would be to remain in the EU. A further half were split between those (27%) preferring to remain in the customs union or join the EEA, and others (23%) choosing some other transitional arrangement.

Preferred outcome for Brexit for UK Finance Leaders

CFOs and CEOs agree on EU

This verdict, delivered at a critical moment as the government considered the details of a proposed deal on Brexit, reinforces the assessment of UK chairs and chief executives two months ago.

Then, asked the same question at the Odgers Berndtson CEO dinner in September, 55% of CEOs said they’d like to reverse Brexit. A further 24% preferred to remain in the customs union or EEA.

Darker mood

When asked for their take on the UK economic outlook, 47% of finance chiefs said they were not very confident, with a further 9% “terrified”, showing a darkening of the mood.

Confidence in Brexit for UK Finance Leaders

When chief executives and chairs were asked the same question in September, over half (54%) were not very confident about the economic outlook, but only 2.8% had said they were terrified.

“Business leaders think some deal is better than none and, whilst gloomy about the economic outlook, they want clarity and some kind of agreement,” said Mark Freebairn, Head of the CFO Practice at Odgers Berndtson, after the poll. 

“The strongest message is that, with more clarity, they will invest in the UK.”

Accelerating automation

Almost three-quarters of finance chiefs polled said they planned to speed up investment in automation to maintain the UK growth of their businesses.

Automation investment from UK Finance Leaders

12.5% said they wanted clarity before confirming more precise plans.

Investment plans from UK Finance Leaders

“This suggests the UK could, almost as a result of slower economic growth and Brexit, really accelerate its shift towards greater automation, which promises to have a major impact on the outlook for both employment and leadership,” Mark Freebairn added.

Mark Freebairn

Mark Freebairn is a Partner and Head of the Financial Management Practice of Odgers Berndtson, based in London. The Financial Management Practice appoints Finance Directors and CFOs across all sect...

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