Bibby Financial Services has today published its latest Global Business Monitor which is an international survey of over 2,300 small and medium-sized enterprises across thirteen countries -Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Czech Republic, Poland, France, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia and the Netherlands.
The survey found that Irish SMEs are more likely to be struggling with cashflow than their international competitors, with well over a third (38%) highlighting it as a significant issue, and less than half expecting a growth in sales in 2020.
Small businesses around the world have described rising costs as their greatest challenge, and the problem is particularly acute in Ireland, where 49% of SMEs cited it as the major obstacle to business growth, compared to the global average of 42%.
The report also highlights the SME sector’s outlook when it comes to the impact of geo-political uncertainty. Seventy two percent of Irish businesses feel Brexit is the biggest threat to global economic growth, followed by the political situation in the US and the rise of protectionist economic policies worldwide.
Of those Irish SMEs trading internationally, the UK continues to represent best value and the greatest opportunity, followed by the US and Germany, Spain and France. But with Brexit on the horizon, almost two fifths (39%) of Irish SMEs say they are considering export markets beyond the UK.
However, 82% of businesses believe they face some form of challenge in trading internationally, most notably foreign exchange fluctuations, with 21% of SMEs citing this as a key factor.
Across these markets Irish SMEs are the fourth most optimistic about the performance of their domestic economy, with 57% of SMEs believing it to be good, down 10% since the last survey in 2017.
The strong performance of the Irish economy, particularly as it nears full-employment, has also caused challenges for SMEs, with 50% describing it as ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to find qualified staff.
Over half (53%) of SMEs reported a growth in sales over the last year, and, looking ahead, and despite the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, 49% of SMEs expect sales to increase in the next twelve months. Of those expecting growth, 72% expect it to come from an increase in their number of new customers.
The report also shows that rising costs and overheads are the greatest challenge facing Irish SMEs, with the proportion of businesses that feel Government policy is favourable to them dropping by more than half – down from 18% in 2017 to just 9%.
Availability of finance remains a key concern, with only 21% of respondents considering it excellent or good, down from 33% in 2017, and an increase in the number of businesses rejected for external finance (19% in 2019, up from 10% in 2017).
When asked what area is most problematic for managing cashflow, 42% cited difficulties collecting payment from customers on time. In addition, 30% suffered a bad debt in the last year, and the average amount lost was €26,603.
Speaking this week, Managing Director at Bibby Financial Services Ireland, Mark O’Rourke said, "The strong performance of the Irish economy to date has meant that Irish SMEs continue to be largely optimistic about trading in post-Brexit domestic and international markets when compared to their international competitors. However there is a risk that underinvestment in preparation for Brexit will have a damaging effect on the sector and for Irish businesses, with few SMEs having the resources to put specific contingency plans in place. Our research also indicates that more SMEs are being rejected for external finance by traditional lenders."
He added, "It’s therefore more important than ever that SMEs look beyond the major banks to consider a wider range of financing options, which are typically better suited to the needs of smaller businesses."