UK SMEs more at risk of strike-related losses – AXA UK research

New research by AXA UK reveals that Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have a low level of business interruption insurance, leaving them vulnerable to the costs of a variety of potential business issues - not least the expected £500m cost to the economy caused by the “Day of Action”. It is likely that SMEs will be disproportionately affected by this unprecedented dislocation given their apparent lack of protection.

30 November 2011

Posted in Financial results

Download the document (PDF 3MB)

AXA UK commissioned a research study into the current positions of 650 SMEs in ten countries. This study revealed that only 39 per cent of UK SMEs have business interruption cover in place.

Moreover, almost half (47 per cent) of all UK SMEs surveyed did not have a business continuity plan in place. Many SMEs think they are too small to think about continuity planning with some not seeing the need to have a business continuity plan in place at all. The lack of perceived need is not consistent with the risks small businesses face - and the interruptions caused by the ‘Day of Action’ could leave UK SMEs with millions of pounds worth of uninsured losses.

While the results for risk management were concerning, those for financial prudence were encouraging. Only 25 per cent of UK respondents used a bank loan to support their businesses compared to an average of 47 per cent for those within the European Union (‘EU’). The UK also appeared at the top end of the range when considering how many months' worth of cash flow an SME typically holds. Thirty six per cent of UK SMEs hold three months or more of cash compared to 30 per cent across the rest of the EU.

The overall economic outlook of SMEs is largely upbeat about the coming twelve months with more firms confident in their ability to improve revenue and profitability. However, this more positive outlook does not look likely to lead to major job growth with only a small minority, 15 per cent of UK SMEs, looking to increase headcount in the coming year.

In the current economic environment, with interest rates on cash balances at historic lows, there is an opportunity cost to using cash as ‘rainy-day’ money. While fiscal prudence is to be encouraged, it is clear from the AXA UK research that this has not extended to the use of insurance as a cost effective means of protecting the downside for SMEs. Indeed, it is clear from the findings that SMEs will continue to stock pile cash rather than invest so long as they perceive risks to their businesses. That insurance could provide this piece of mind, allowing cash flow to be freed up for investment, is an educational challenge for the industry.

Head shot of Amanda Blanc, CEO of AXA Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary

UK SMEs appear to have put in place prudent financial provision and practices, when compared to their European counterparts, but it is perhaps worrying that they appear to be ‘self insuring’ rather than taking on the cost of appropriate insurance provision against key business risks. That these risks appear to have increased is evident from this year's litany of ‘interruptions’. From the summer riots through the current ‘occupy’ protests to the recent ‘Day of Action’, businesses across the UK are facing extreme dislocation on an increasingly regular basis. Indeed, based on our findings, it is likely that SMEs will bear a disproportionate amount of the expected £500m cost to the economy of the strikes.

As an industry we need to take steps, through the providing the right advice and communicating more effectively that our products and claims handling services are often the difference between the success and failure of business in times of need. This way we can ensure that the benefits of insurance are better understood by this important segment of the UK economy.

Amanda Blanc, CEO at AXA Commercial Lines

The AXA International Small Business Report was published on 28 November 2011 at a Parliamentary Round Table discussion held at the House of Commons, hosted by Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister of State for Small Business. Andrew Cave, Head of External Affairs and Chief Spokesperson at the Federation of Small Businesses and Amanda Blanc, CEO AXA Commercial also spoke.