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UK SMEs continue to see COVID-19 impacts as top critical external risk; Brexit concerns also remain

Small and medium sized enterprises (SME) in the UK believe that, despite the disruption they have experienced since the beginning of 2020, their business continuity plans responded well to both the COVID-19 pandemic (71 percent) and Brexit (55 percent). This is according to new research from Marsh Commercial

However, the research also revealed that since the UK left the European Union on 31st January 2020, 31 percent of SMEs have experienced supply chain delays, with 22 percent suffering reduced trade, and 19 percent seeing a decrease in cash flow.

In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 26 percent of SMEs said that they had to close their business, either temporarily or permanently, due to government guidelines while 42 percent made a shift to remote working; 26 percent said that they had to put some employees on furlough.

The findings come from Marsh Commercial’s new UK SME Risk Report, based on survey data from 1,300 SMEs across the UK, which explores how events over the last 18 months have impacted business risk appetite, risk management approaches, and future risk resilience.

The majority of respondents (56 percent) admitted that they remain worried about ongoing and future Brexit-related risks, with concern about continued economic impact of greatest worry (29 percent), followed by an impairment of the ability to trade in Europe (25 percent) and potential border delays (25 percent).

Continued fallout from COVID-19, such as further lockdowns or disruptions to day-to-day business operations, is considered the most critical external risk  (36 percent) to businesses, and managing this risk is deemed a top priority (29 percent), even more so than improving IT and online security (22 percent) or responding to financial challenges such as cashflow and reduced customer spend driven by the current economic climate (21 percent).

The research revealed that firms believe there is still work to be done to close gaps in risk management planning. The top three gaps that SMEs identified as important to address were: adoption of new behaviours (31 percent); education of employees in key risk management practices (30 percent); and the implementation of formalised risk management programmes (28 percent).

Half of those surveyed said that they adjusted their business insurance coverage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and 26 percent of respondents highlighted that the pandemic was one of their top three reasons for reviewing insurance arrangements. However, 49 percent of respondents saw increases in pandemic specific exclusions, and 42 percent found it challenging to find the insurance they need.

Anthony Gruppo, CEO of Marsh Commercial commented: “A focus on the narrow view of COVID-19 fallout as a risk management priority, rather than broadening the scope of activity to address other types of challenges, could leave businesses exposed. Global and local risk landscapes are changing with issues such as climate change, cyber security, and sustainability taking centre stage. These present opportunities for SMEs, but with these opportunities come new risks.

“It is important for SMEs to assess whether their risk management and business continuity plans are as robust as is required by their industry and by insurers. Plans must be fit for purpose and be able to respond to future risks. Robust insurance is also a vital measure to help mitigate risk and support long-term business resilience. The crux of business resilience is knowing that you will be tested again, and ensuring you are prepared for all eventualities.”

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