To mark the 20th anniversary of the Lloyds Bank Business Barometer, 600 businesses were surveyed on the major challenges and opportunities faced in the last two decades and anticipated challenges up to 2040 and beyond.

Almost half (47%) of UK businesses said taking on new staff is their key ambition in the medium-term, followed by developing new products and services (36%) and increasing online sales (30%), according to the new research.

The survey found that businesses expect online purchasing (20%) and demand for instant products and services (18%) to be the biggest change in consumer behaviour in the next 20 years, forcing them to be more creative and innovative in order to adapt to deliver quickly.

This mirrors what businesses cited as having had the biggest impact on their operations in the past 20 years – chiefly with greater access to information (24%) and more online purchasing (22%) changing customer behaviour. 

However, firms are optimistic about further changes to consumer behaviour with 38% reporting that advances in technology have had the biggest positive impact on their business in the past 20 years.

Challenges ahead

Despite a clear drive towards growth, a net balance of 83% of firms anticipate the next 20 years will be more challenging than those that have just passed – which included the credit crunch, recession, the Brexit referendum and global pandemic.

Some of the challenges that businesses see themselves facing into can be linked back to the pandemic, including rising costs (23%) and the ability to recruit staff (11%). In addition, one in ten (11%) businesses see the need to keep up with technological developments as their biggest challenge in the next two to three years. 

Government provision of greater access to more vocational-based learning was seen by 44% of firms as being a way to help mitigate these challenges. However, it was the idea of more favourable taxation to encourage sustainable business practices (52%) and new trade agreements with major trading partners (48%) that provided the most comfort for future growth opportunities.

Paul Gordon, Managing Director for SME and Mid Corporates, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The Business Barometer has provided unique insights into the views of British businesses for 20 years.  In that time, we have seen a seismic shift in the economic context in the UK, as well as the extraordinary ability of business leaders to adapt and evolve to meet changing market needs.

“Surprisingly, with business having faced into a quite unprecedented period of late but also over the last 20 years, the majority of business leaders feel the next twenty years will be more challenging.  To help them through this, businesses are looking for support on taxation, trade and skills to navigate in this environment. But one thing is clear – businesses remain resilient to change and are gearing up for growth by increasing headcount, enhancing their service offering or utilising new technologies. We’ll be by their side over the months and years ahead as they deliver on their ambitions.”

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A monthly temperature gauge of confidence levels among UK businesses.

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