REPORT: UK-based SMEs take optimistic look at what 2020 has in-store

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Barclaycard has launched its inaugural SME Barometer, in partnership with YouGov, revealing that UK SMEs performed well last quarter, and are positive about the year ahead.

It detailed that SMEs saw a strong end to 2019, with Barclaycard processing 5.1% more merchant transactions in the fourth quarter (Q4), compared to the same quarter the previous year.

Barclaycard, which processes almost £1 in every £3 spent in the UK, also reveals that the total value of merchant transactions is up 4.4% in the first half of Q1, compared to the first half of Q4 2019.

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This puts SMEs well on track to meet their quarterly revenue growth target of 3.3%.

Less than a month after leaving the EU, longer-term expectations are even more positive, with SMEs expecting to grow by an average of 6.3% over the next 12 months.

Businesses in the North East, Yorkshire & The Humber were the most optimistic in both the short and long term – forecasting quarterly revenue growth of 5.3%, and an annual uplift of 7.9%.

SMEs in Scotland reported the highest performance year-on-year, with a revenue increase of 6.6%, and they have even stronger expectations for 2020, predicting annual growth of 7.7%.

To measure SME sentiment, Barclaycard and YouGov have aggregated SMEs’ viewpoints on ten key topics to create an overall index score out of 200, with anything over 100 indicating a positive outlook, while anything under 100 is negative.

Challenges and opportunities

SMEs also reported the strength of the domestic economy as both the largest opportunity (19%) and biggest challenge (19%) they face this year.

They reported the next top opportunity as technology (11%), while the top three challenges are rounded out by competition (14%) and the availability of skills (13%).

Wider economic outlook

Asked about prospects for the UK economy, on average businesses were positive, with one third of SMEs (33 per cent) saying they were optimistic. The same percentage of SMEs (33 per cent) also said that they felt positive about prospects for their sector.

Expectations jumped when it came to their own businesses, with 42 per cent of SMEs feeling positive, indicating a determination to succeed despite the more balanced outlook for their sector and the broader UK economy.

In another sign of economic growth, 17% of businesses reported that they had started to trade internationally in the past 12 months, with a further 10% intending to start doing so this year.

Finally, almost three in ten (28%) SMEs say it is taking clients longer to pay them than it did a year ago, with manufacturing suffering the most, with nearly half of businesses (49%) reporting this as a trend they’re seeing.

Rob Cameron, CEO at Barclaycard Payments, said: “Small and medium businesses are the engine of the UK economy and a vital indicator of economic wellbeing. It is crucial that we understand both their performance and their overall confidence, so that we can target support at the areas where it will have the most impact, driving further economic growth.”

Adding: “It’s very encouraging to see that SMEs expect to increase revenue in both the near and longer-term. As they grow and start to trade internationally, SMEs should look for a payments provider who can scale alongside them, helping them to meet the needs of their customers, both today and in the future.”

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Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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