More than eight in ten (83%) Chief Finance Offices (CFOs) ) say they expect the long-term business environment to deteriorate as a result of the UK leaving the EU, according to Deloitte’s latest Q2 CFO Survey. This is the highest reading since the referendum in June 2016.

Meanwhile, the percentage of CFOs who think that now is a good time to take a greater risk onto their balance sheets has fallen to 4%, the lowest since the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

The survey also highlights the unprecedented pace of change within the finance function with the ’risk appetite’ among CFOs at its lowest since 2008 continued economic uncertainty, external compliance, regulatory change and internal cultural shifts; cost reduction is once again the CFO’s top priority.

The quarterly report, is a barometer of UK corporates’ sentiment and strategies, demonstrates how the role of the CFO has evolved over the past 20 years. Originally the finance leader’s remit was almost exclusively internal financial reporting, now most are considered strategic partners in leading business transformation. With these added pressures, many are looking to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency through strategic planning and process optimisation.

As well as transforming processes in the finance function itself, the report shows that CFOs are now often expected to participate in business-wide innovation initiatives to aid in increasing profitability and growth. Driving this change is an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing business environment, where most industries are being disrupted by new technologies and business models that impact how business is done and customers are served.

Ian Stewart, Chief Economist at Deloitte, explains: “Events in the last three years, and recent news suggesting the economy shrank in the second quarter, have added to worries about the impact of Brexit. This is not solely a question of the long-term outlook. Brexit has not happened, but it is acting as a drag on corporate sentiment and spending. Almost two thirds (62%) of CFOs expect to reduce hiring in the next three years as a result of Brexit and almost half (47%) expect to reduce capital spending, suggesting a cautious approach from businesses.”

“Ironically, risk appetite in the corporate sector has slumped just as it has taken off in the equity market. Measures of financial market volatility have declined, even though a majority of CFOs rate uncertainty as being at high or very high levels.”

Ian Pollard, Senior Vice President EMEA at Signavio said “Digital finance has precipitated the next wave of finance transformation. The changes in the finance function, highlighted in the report, will affect the way CFOs make decisions about resource planning, business, financial analysis and day-to-day operational finance. Process-led transformation enables those in finance to substantially increase operational efficiency and better engage with their customers. In this digital age, there has never been a more opportune time for the CFO to have an impact on their business.”

“Along with reducing risk and costs, leveraging data to construct a real time picture will help CFOs to innovate more readily and drive business growth. The ever-changing finance function should definitely be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat. By utilising available Business Process improvement technologies, CFOs can work with their wider team to transform operations, remain compliant and optimise productivity.”

The Deloitte CFO Survey gauges sentiment amongst the UK’s largest businesses. 79 CFOs participated, including CFOs of 48 FTSE 350 companies. The total market value of the listed companies that participated is £345 billion, approximately 15% of the UK quoted equity market.