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- and one most of us didn’t
As we entered 2023, three of the threats uppermost in the minds of business leaders in the mid-market were inflation, cyber attack, and economic slowdown. According to data from the International Business Report (IBR), Grant Thornton’s global survey of mid-market companies, more than half (51%) of business leaders see inflation as an ongoing threat, while 47% cited cyber attack and 50% referenced economic slowdown as a threat at the beginning of this year. However, as spring has emerged so has turbulence in parts of the banking sector. Though not directly reported as a concern as the year commenced, turmoil in the banking sector is a direct result of a high inflation environment and its necessary monetary response, which have added to the climate of uncertainty for many businesses.
Top threats to mid-market businesses
How firms respond to these threats will be key to ensuring that their ongoing optimism is not misplaced. By delivering the basics really well and from being innovative in the face of these short term threats, firms can protect value and, more importantly, reap rewards in the long term as economic headwinds subside.
“When dealing with such an array of threats, leaders of mid-market businesses have some tough decisions to make. In these conditions, it’s essential that they have the right expertise around the table helping them to think through the different scenarios. They should engage fully with their board of directors and senior management, and make sure they’re getting the most from them. But they will also need to think more expansively, says David Munton, Global leader - International capabilities and support, Grant Thornton International.
“You might need to bring in expertise from outside, from different organisations, from suppliers, from customers, from regulators, from disruptors – just to really challenge your thinking. You can’t rely on business as usual right now. Leaders need to challenge their own thinking and be constantly asking themselves: how can we innovate, who can we learn from, what can we be doing better?”
Although the global economy has shown resilience through recent challenges, businesses and consumers continue to be affected by the cost of living, increased energy bills and rising interest rates. In the US, while some overall inflation measures have eased somewhat, stubbornly firm core CPI remains elevated, continuing to challenge consumers and weigh on firms’ growth. Governments around the world are working to control inflation, with finance ministers, such as India’s Nirmala Sitharaman, acting to ‘continuously monitor prices’ and take steps to protect consumers.[i]
Globally more than half of mid-market businesses (51%) see inflation as a real concern. Firms in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) feel particularly concerned, with 60% citing it as a risk, and in Latin America three in four (77%) said inflation was a threat to their prospects.
Inflation threat for different regions
“Brazil’s long history of inflation has been a persistent challenge. Although inflation has been under control for a while, some of the measures to protect businesses from inflation are still in place. For example, it is considered a fair business practice in Brazil to include the inflation rate as a benchmark for contract renewal. Brazilian firms that know the market and know their clients, will be able to adapt and find a way to protect value.” - Daniel Maranhão, Chief Executive, Grant Thornton Brazil.
Amid these prevailing inflationary pressures and continuing economic uncertainty, consumers are likely to become increasingly cost conscious as the year progresses. While many businesses have tried to absorb some part of the rising costs, this response in isolation is clearly not a sustainable one. Just over half (51%) of mid-market businesses expect to increase selling prices over the coming year. This will clearly have a direct impact on consumers, but it is slightly down from 53% in H1 2022, showing how firms are working hard to preserve consumer loyalty and protect their customers from the worst of the price rises.
“Whatever you decide on your pricing strategy, you must consider the impact on your brand. Firms know it’s a tough time for everyone and, while they’re finding it hard, their customers will be too. There’s a real drive to be responsible; not to seek aggressive growth but to be good corporate citizens and build long term relationships with their customers.” - Dianne Neurauter, Principal, Grant Thornton US
Despite rising costs, 55% of businesses expect an increase in profitability in the next year. Firms will need to seek out operational efficiency, identify new markets and scenario plan carefully for how they achieve this without alienating existing customers. Globally 37% of firms say they have a pricing strategy to improve margin and 49% to protect it, increasing prices in line with costs.
Pricing strategy intentions in different sectors
“It is critical for every business to develop a good cyber security culture and hygiene, integrating security into their change management process. Not only will this help reduce the risks, with better controls and a better understanding of the threat landscape, but it will also improve relationships with partners, says Alexandre Blanc, Strategic and Security Advisor at VARS, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton
“Attackers are highly sophisticated. When they attack a firm they are not just aiming to make quick money, but they’re often looking to use it as an entry point for further attacks on bigger targets, such as large corporate partners, government service providers, or even critical industrial systems.”
Economic uncertainty is an ongoing concern for the mid-market, with the IMF reporting that elevated levels of uncertainty are holding back growth.[iv] The World Bank projects global growth will slow to its third-weakest pace in nearly three decades in 2023.[v] However, the expectation is that many major markets will avoid a recession, with the World Economic Forum suggesting that the economic headwinds will be temporary.[vi]
In spring this year, as a result of high inflation and monetary policy response, a new threat emerged to the global economy: turbulence in the banking sector. Prior to these events just 12% of business leaders considered interest rates or access to funding a significant threat.
However, the upheaval at Silicon Valley Bank, First Republic and Credit Suisse, shows just how quickly shockwaves can travel through the market. Amid the economic uncertainty and bailouts in the banking sector, 2023 is proving to be a nervy year for business leaders, but firms that plan ahead and are prepared will be best placed to manage change when it comes.
“Companies today are evaluating the underlying health of the banks they work with in a way which we haven’t seen for some time, explains Kelli Knoble, National tax business leader, Grant Thornton US.
“We’ve been talking to clients who are concerned about their cash flows and have been doing more of their own diligence on their banking relationships - there's a lot more information available about banks today than there was in 2008. We’ve also seen diversification of banking relationships to avert potential risk, so that businesses can quickly move money between banks if necessary.”
Dianne Neurauter, Principal, Grant Thornton US, highlights that “Shocks in the banking sector have got business leaders asking themselves questions that probably haven’t been top of mind since 2008. They’re looking at their banking relationships and trying to understand what their exposure is.
“They’re also thinking about how they can diversify so that they’re not so dependent on one institution. But firms should also be considering the art of the possible, asking what can we do that’s different? What’s innovative? They might consider venture capital or private equity. Increasingly mid-market firms are starting to look at more creative solutions.”
In a period of economic uncertainty, with long term threats and short term shocks causing turbulence, mid-market firms are potentially vulnerable. But, with the right strategy and the right team in place, they can also be well positioned to adapt.
i. www.reuters.com - India will continue with efforts to curb inflation - finance minister - 20.02.23
ii. www.forbes.com - Cybersecurity Trends & Statistics For 2023; What You Need To Know - 5 March 2023
iii. www.grantthornton.global - A to Z guide to cyber risk management
iv. www.imf.org - Global Economic Uncertainty Remains Elevated, Weighing on Growth - 26.01.23
v. www.worldbank.org - Global Economic Prospects, A Second Year of Sharply Slowing Growth
vi - www.ft.com - Things are looking up for the global economy - 20.01.23