PwC Family Business Survey bullish, but businesses may underestimate impact of short-term challenges

PwC Family Business SurveyAlthough more than nine-in-ten UK family businesses anticipate growth, more than a third are concerned about the potential impact of Brexit. However, according to the latest PwC Family Business Survey, compared with 73%  in the 2014 Survey.

Despite the recent slowdown in growth, UK’s family businesses remain bullish about the future. The spectre of Brexit has not impacted their pre-referendum growth forecasts, with 93% anticipating to grow over the next five years, with more than nine in ten (94%) confident of growing their core business in existing markets.

And, although 38% of companies expressed fears as to the impact of Brexit on their business, fewer than half have taken any measures to mitigate the potential impact that leaving the EU may have on their business activities.

Although UK family firms are hopeful of future growth and recovery, their ambitions and expectations lag behind their global counterparts. While 52% of family firms globally expect to develop new markets, only 34% of their UK counterparts anticipate expanding into new country markets. However, Brexit has failed to dampen their export ambitions as UK family businesses predict that their collective exports, as a proportion of overall sales, will increase from 19% to 24% over the next five years.

Commenting on the PwC Family Business Survey findings, Martin Cowie, PwC Northern Ireland partner, said: “Northern Ireland’s family business sector accounts for around three-quarters of all businesses in the region.  That makes it a vital contribution to regional prosperity and vital for future economic growth.

“Despite tough economic conditions and the accelerating pace of change, the UK family business sector remains vibrant and ambitious, with almost one-in-five (18%) expecting to grow quickly and aggressively.

“In some areas, including in Northern Ireland, family firms are not demonstrating the resilience and confidence of their global counterparts, but these issues may be more about confidence in the short-term rather than any long-terms ability to grow and prosper.”

Protecting the long term future of the family business is the key goal for respondents in the UK (68% vs 66% globally) and ensuring the business stays in the family is more of a UK than a global priority. (41% vs 30%).

UK Family businesses also believe they have some advantages over non-family businesses.  Eight in 10 think they have stronger culture and values, while seven in 10 feel they are more streamlined, have a quicker decision making process, and take a longer term approach to decision making than non-family businesses.

Driving growth

PwC says that only a quarter of the businesses surveyed over the duration of the eight PwC Family Business Surveys have survived more than three generations – a lesson for families to ensure that they have strategies to bridge the gap between the entrepreneurial vision that created the original business and long-term sustainability under succeeding generations.

And, while 94% of UK family businesses anticipate future growth based on core business growth in existing markets, a mere 11% of UK firms plan to diversify within their core business, and only a third (34%) plan to sell into new countries– well below the 52% of global family businesses planning to expand into new country markets.

In addition, just over half (56%) of UK family firms plan to finance their anticipated growth through external finance – significantly less than the global average of 78%. PwC says companies could find this cautious approach towards utilising outside funding a challenge to their bullish growth ambitions. The report points to other challenges facing UK family businesses –  whilst 7 out of 10 feel they are more agile and streamlined in decision making than their non-family counterparts, more than half (52%) expressed concerns around attracting and retaining the right talent to help them succeed and, more broadly, around finding staff with the right skills.

Despite the threat of digital disruption being felt by senior executives across the globe, less than half of the UK firms say they have a strategy fit for the digital age. Despite a similar number recognising the importance of digital, only 54% discuss digital disruption at board level.

Martin Cowie said: “The UK is lagging behind its western European peers in its appetite for exporting to new territories with only a third planning expansion into new markets.

“It’s also of concern that so few plan to diversify in their current core markets and have strategies to combat digital disruption. It will be interesting to see how these plans are impacted by new trade agreements being brokered post-Brexit, but overall, it does raise concerns about the survival of some of these businesses.”

Succession and the next generation

There are two key unique challenges facing family businesses, which are not faced by other non-family owned companies – transitioning the business from one generation to the next and developing family members to undertake leadership roles. Failure to tackle these challenges can ultimately result in a business failing.

Disappointingly, only 13% of family businesses in the UK admit to having have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place – and there are no indications this has changed from the findings of previous Family Business Surveys.

A third of family businesses in the UK plan to pass the business ownership (but not the management) onto the next generation, 38% will pass the management on to the next generation while 22% plan to sell or float the business.

Martin Cowie, concluded: “Family businesses are always up for a challenge and, despite Brexit and global economic headwinds, those that we speak to are confident and excited about the future.

“But, with many not surviving beyond the third generation, there is no room for complacency and those planning to survive must focus on robust, strategic planning to take them from where they are to where they need to be in the long term.

“Family firms have to tackle issues around the family itself. These issues are more personal, more complex, and the risks if it goes wrong are potentially terminal. The reality is that family firm’s fail for family reasons.”

PwC Family Business Survey highlights

  • 93% anticipate growth but little diversification away from core markets
  • A third fear the impact of Brexit, but half plan to take action to reduce the effect
  • Fewer than half have a strategy fit for the digital age
  • Around three-quarters of Northern Ireland firms are family businesses
  • Only 13% have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place


For a full report, go to

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