New research by Intuit has found that UK small business credit card spending up by 22% since the pandemic amidst funding challenges.
With elevated inflation and high-interest rates, small businesses have increasingly depended on their credit cards, with the current spending being 20% higher, on average, than they were before the pandemic. At the same time, their monthly credit card payments, which include interest charges, are up by 26% on average.
These pressures are affecting jobs: in the UK, small business job vacancy growth rates declined in all of the first eight months of 2023. Similarly, small business employment rates declined in the first five months of 2023 in the US and in seven of the first eight months of 2023 in Canada.
The rise of the solopreneur (non-employer businesses) shows entrepreneurship is stronger than ever; however, in the US and Canada fewer new businesses are creating jobs, a concerning trend because in the US, more than a third of all jobs are with small businesses while in Canada and the UK it’s more than two in five.
Access to funding is essential for small business growth, but roughly half of small businesses in the UK, US, and Canada, are self-funded by the owner. New businesses and businesses owned by women or members of underrepresented racial groups often face greater funding challenges.
Despite inflation declining over the past year, small businesses in the UK, US, and Canada say rising costs are still the number one challenge they face.
The report found that in 2023, while overall employment levels have trended upward in the UK, the US, and Canada, small business employment has been less resilient.
The report also examines the pivotal role of small businesses within the UK economy, evaluating their economic performance, owner characteristics, financing practices, digital transformation efforts, and the diverse array of challenges they encounter. In the UK, nearly 99% of all businesses are small businesses – providing nearly 44% of all jobs (rising 2% between 2011 and 2022). More than 82% of UK firms have less than 10 employees and collectively employ nearly 19% of the country’s workforce – in addition to solopreneurs (non-employer businesses) that also contribute a significant proportion of the UK workforce.
The rise of the solopreneur (non-employer businesses): The share of non-employee businesses in the UK has increased from 68% in the early 2000s to 74% today. The rise of the gig economy and use of automation tools – which let solopreneurs single-handedly run their operations – could also be facilitating this increase. The UK also has the highest percentage of business owners over 65 – making up 9% of the total group.
Self-funding amidst UK small business’ challenges in accessing credit: Nearly half (48%) of small business owners have used personal savings at some point to fund their business. Small businesses in the UK are least likely to have sought funding (with 59% not seeking any) in the past 12 months compared to 48% in the US and 54% in Canada.
Cost and availability of funding worsens: About a third (32%) of UK small businesses agree that, over the past 12 months, the cost and availability of financing has deteriorated, rising to 39% amongst the youngest firms aged 0-5 years who are in the crucial early stages.
Credit card spending on the rise: At the same time, monthly credit card expenditure has increased 22% since the pandemic – again higher than in the US (20%) and Canada (18%), equivalent to £2,400 per business. Due to the current high-interest rate environment, monthly credit card payments against account balances have risen 25% since pre-pandemic, equivalent to almost £2,000 per business.
Going digital to improve resilience: The report indicates a clear correlation between higher use of software, apps, and other digital technologies and better business performance. In the UK – much like the US – a substantial 54% of enterprises that are high users of digital tools (using 8 or more) report positive revenue growth. The report reveals the top three digital tools used by UK small businesses as: social media (51%), business website (50%) and accounting/financial software (45%).
Global Economist, and Arnold C. Harberger Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Ufuk Akcigit said “The Intuit QuickBooks Small Business Index Annual Report gives unique visibility into the health of small businesses and the issues they are facing today. Inflation rates have been soaring in the UK since 2021, and reached a peak in October 2022. Even now, consumer prices have risen 6.3% in the past 12 months. Against this backdrop, the Annual Report indicates small businesses have been funding their business through their own savings or credit cards – which are incurring extra costs due to higher interest rates. Our goal is for policymakers, industry leaders, and aspiring entrepreneurs to draw valuable conclusions from this in-depth analysis to create policies and foster an environment conducive to the success as well as the resilience of small businesses within these specific sectors and regions. Part of this includes a greater diversity of funding options so small businesses don’t have to struggle with extra costs in today’s high interest environment.”
Sasan Goodarzi, CEO of Intuit said “Becoming an entrepreneur is a bold decision. Given the significant impact new and growing small businesses have on job creation, innovation, and the economy, policymakers and industry leaders should be equally bold in creating an environment where small businesses can grow and thrive. We remain focused on working across the industry to create new and innovative ways to serve our customers and help solve their most pressing challenges.”