Almost one million small firms have no emergency fund

Written by: Rachel Miller

Date: 9 July 2024

A businesswoman is chasing overdue  invoices

A new survey of small business owners has revealed that 18% of SMEs have no cash reserves to fall back on - rising to 48% among the smallest firms with turnovers of less than £100,000.

A new poll of 1,000 small business owners by card payment provider Dojo, has found that one in five small firms (with turnovers up to £1m) don't have an emergency cash reserve to fall back on in tough times. With 5,547,000 SMEs in the UK, this could mean an estimated 991,800 SMEs don't have any kind of emergency fund.

With payments due, many businesses have money in their "cash runway" - on average the most common length of cash runway for businesses is six months. However, the data suggests that financial buffers are much less robust for smaller businesses. Those with a turnover of £100,000 or less typically have a cash runway of just under three months; of this group, 25% have no cash runway to support them at all and half of them (48%) have no emergency fund either.

Even the biggest SMEs are not immune to risk - the Dojo survey finds that a staggering 31% of firms who turnover £500m a year don't have an emergency fund.

Financial stress continues

Not surprisingly, 30% of businesses report that their biggest challenge is financial stress. The findings show that:

  • 30% have made redundancies in 2024;
  • One in two businesses have late payments owed to them;
  • 27% have borrowed money from their friends to support their business.

One in three (36%) of small businesses say they have had to optimise bills and increase rates and prices due to the current market. For larger SMEs, the most common cost-cutting measure was closing down offices (40%), followed by cutting production costs (39%).

Looking ahead, the future could be brighter for the UK's small business community, with 78% of businesses polled reporting that they are expecting profitability and revenue growth in 2024. However, the smallest businesses (with turnovers under £100,000) are less optimistic, with 38% saying that they don't anticipate growth in terms of revenue and profitability in 2024.

These findings come as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) publishes its latest quarterly economic survey. The headline results show that business confidence has increased, with 58% of firms expecting an increase in turnover in the next twelve months. The BCC data also indicates that fewer firms (39% compared to 46% in Q1) expect to hike their own prices in the coming months.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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