DAVOS — British finance executives on Wednesday urged the UK to stay inside the European Union (EU) for the good of its economy after Prime Minister David Cameron paved the way for a referendum on membership.

As the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting began in Davos, Switzerland, executives from Standard Chartered to Prudential said remaining in the bloc was in the UK’s economic interest. That message was dovetailed with an acknowledgement that the crisis-stung eurozone’s own reconsideration of its governance justified British demands for a review of relations.

"The UK needs to remain very much part of the EU, but I can completely understand why Mr Cameron thought it necessary to offer the people a referendum," Standard Chartered CEO Peter Sands said.

"Europe is changing and as the biggest country in Europe outside the eurozone its relationship is going to change."

With about half of UK exports heading to EU neighbours and London serving as the region’s financial hub, companies have an interest in the UK sustaining ties with the rest of Europe.

Mr Cameron will address the world’s financial elite in Davos on Thursday. Describing British backing for the status quo as "wafer thin", Mr Cameron said on Wednesday voters will have their say by the end of 2017, if he is re-elected in two years and once he has negotiated a return of some powers to the UK. He said that he wants his country to stay in the bloc.

"For the business sector in general, the long-term interest of Britain is in the EU," Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Prudential, Britain’s biggest insurer by market value, said. "The EU needs to be reformed, there’s a lot of frustration around, that debate needs to happen. "