Banking, brokerage and securities executives are feeling slightly more optimistic than other business leaders about the state of the economy over the next six months, causing an increase in the number of executives that plan to hire more staff. Nearly three-quarters of banking executives believe the U.S. economy will improve, according to a quarterly survey by Grant Thornton. Comparatively, 64% of executives across all other areas of business believe the economy will improve in the next six months. Banking leaders are feeling confident about their business, with 85% reporting a "very or somewhat optimistic" view. According to survey results, 45% of banking executives plan to increase staff, while 49% of other business leaders plan to increase staff. The last time the survey was conducted, only 23% reported an intention to increase staff. Only 11% on the most recent survey plan to decrease staff in the coming months, down from 17% in the last quarterly survey. But Nichole Jordan, national banking and securities industry practice leader at Grant Thornton, said banks are still proceeding cautiously. "In the aftermath of the downturn, bankers are proceeding with caution, focusing on building up capital and preparing for the costs of compliance with financial reform regulations," Jordan said. In a more macroeconomic view, banking executives were asked how the federal government should reduce budget deficits. About 78% said spending should be cut, while 22% agreed taxes should be raised. The Grant Thornton survey was conducted from Feb. 8 to Feb. 23, with 65 senior executives from U.S. banking, investment bank, brokerage, and securities companies. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.