Financial services companies in the UK are hiring staff at the fastest rate in 15 years, buoyed by strong demand for branch-based customer services and increasing business volumes.
The latest quarterly survey by the CBI and PricewaterhouseCoopers, shows five per cent of companies reduced employment over the last three months but 41% took staff on. The balance of plus 36% is the fastest rate of growth recorded since the survey began in December 1989. It compares with a balance of only plus five per cent in the previous survey.
Companies expect a slowdown in employment growth over the next three months, says the CBI, but expectations are still stronger than at any time since December 1999.
The increase in employment came as business volumes grew more strongly than for nearly four years. Fifty-three per cent said business was up compared with the previous quarter while nine per cent said it was down. But volumes are expected to fall modestly over the next quarter, the first time falls have been expected since March 2003.
John Hitchins, UK banking leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: "Despite an overall increase in confidence and continuing recovery over the last quarter, the contrasting results concealed in the latest survey suggest that the industry is struggling to predict future trends. Competition has remained the main preoccupation for financial services firms whilst legislation and regulation have surprisingly become less of a concern."
The strongest employment growth was among fund managers, general insurers and building societies, with a renewed interest in servicing customers at the branch fuelling demand for staff. Only life insurers reported they had cut staff.
The value of business done over the Internet also steadily increased: The proportion of companies saying more than 30% of customers used Web-based services rose to 12% from three per cent in March.
However, the biggest barrier to the growth of e-business comes from continued customer preferences for other routes, says the CBI. Customers not knowing how to use Web sites for transactions was identified by survey respondents as the second most significant barrier.