• Small firms harden attitudes on Brexit, but don’t plan to put the brakes on yet

    November 1st 2017. Posted in SME Insurance

    Today, AXA Business Insurance reveals findings from a two year tracker of Brexit sentiment among small businesses. Attitudes have hardened in favour of staying in the EU since the onset of negotiations, and a third of businesses expect to see their costs rise and customer incomes fall. But, this nervousness has not yet had a significant impact on growth plans, the study finds.

    Pre-Campaign (January 2016): Remain favoured

    AXA conducted its first survey of small business owners just before the Prime Minister announced the start of campaigning for the referendum. At this stage, small businesses were most in favour of remaining in the EU, but almost a third had yet to make up their minds.

     

    Are you in favour of leaving or remaining in the EU?

    LEAVE

    REMAIN

    UNDECIDED

    28%

    38%

    34%

     

     

    The Vote (June 2016): Remain gains most small business votes

    When it came to it, small business owners mostly voted to remain in the EU, with the undecided vote ending up split 50/50 between Leave and Remain.

     

    How did you vote in the EU referendum?

    LEAVE

    REMAIN

    NO VOTE

    38%

    47%

    15%

     

     

    Mid-Negotiations (Q3 2017): Remain sentiment strengthens

    The most recent survey found no change of heart amongst business owners who voted for Brexit. If asked to vote in a second referendum, 38 per cent would still vote to leave. The strong swing towards Remain would instead be driven by those who had previously not voted now wishing to vote Remain.

     

    How would you vote if a second EU referendum were held today?

     

    LEAVE

    REMAIN

    NO VOTE

    38%

    53%

    9%

     

     

    The most striking shift was seen in the North of England: while 49 per cent of the region’s small firms voted to remain in the EU, this would now increase to 59 per cent, again driven by those who had previously abstained. In Scotland, six in ten would now vote to stay in the EU, up from 52 per cent in the original referendum.

     

    Irrespective of how they voted, few business owners are confident that there is a clear plan for Brexit. Just two in ten said they think that voters properly understood the question on the ballot paper, and just three in ten feel the Government knows what it wants to gain from negotiations.

     

    Even though cutting red tape was a stated goal of the Brexit campaign, just 12 per cent of small firms believe they will see any reduction in regulations as a result of leaving the EU. Rather, the most common expectation is that their customers will suffer a squeeze on their incomes. A sizeable minority supported the view that Brexit would mean more work for British citizens as opposed to migrant workers.

     

    WHAT WILL BE THE TOP OUTCOME OF BREXIT?

     

    1) “My customers will have less money to spend” (32 per cent). For comparison, just one in ten expected to see business boosted.

    2) “Materials, goods and services I need for my business will be more expensive” (25 per cent)

    3) “More jobs for British workers” (21 per cent).

     

    Despite these fears, few report that their profits have suffered amidst this year’s Brexit uncertainty.  Altogether, fifteen per cent of small firms say their turnover has reduced since the start of this year: shops and salons are disproportionately represented in this group. Double that number (32 per cent) report an increase in turnover since January, up by a fifth on average.

     

    Likewise, the survey did not find a significant hit to growth plans, which remain in line with previous years’ figures. Half (48 per cent) of business owners said they are planning for growth, 41 per cent will invest in their business in the coming year, and 13 per cent are planning to recruit staff (just five percentage points down on 2014).

     

    The numbers who want to grow, but are delaying investment due to Brexit uncertainty, are low: just 4.5 per cent of small firms surveyed. The top reason not to anticipate growth in 2017/2018 was not Brexit, but simply being ‘happy with the status quo’ – the reason given by 55 per cent of those who had no growth plans.

     

    “Our findings suggest that small businesses are most inclined to doubt the wisdom of the Brexit project, but have a robust faith in their own abilities to weather any coming storms. Investment and hiring expectations are in line with what we have seen in the pre-referendum years. There is little evidence of panic yet.”

     

    “They will be watching their customers nervously for any signs that they are restraining their spending though. With many small firms operating to tight profit margins and with threadbare financial cushions, particularly at the micro-end, this confidence could be shattered at the first sign of falling customer interest. To maintain their buoyant mood, they will need reassurance that financial help and support will be available if their incomes are squeezed.”  Gareth Howell, Managing Director, AXA Direct

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    Notes for Editors 

    INFORMATION FOR EDITORS

    A survey of 800 small business owners was conducted by AXA Insurance in September 2017. Previous data is drawn from AXA’s quarterly surveys of small businesses with a sample size of 500 for each wave.

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    The AXA Group is a worldwide leader in insurance and asset management, with 165,000 employees serving 107 million clients in 64 countries. In 2016, IFRS revenues amounted to Euro 100.2 billion and IFRS underlying earnings to Euro 5.7 billion. AXA had Euro 1,429 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2016. In 2016 Interbrand ranked AXA the 1st insurance brand worldwide for the 8th consecutive year.

    In the UK AXA operates through a number of business units including: AXA Insurance, AXA PPP healthcare and AXA Ireland. AXA employees around 10,000 staff in the UK.

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