What are company boards thinking? Top 5 insights from the FT/ICSA

The Boardroom Bellwether survey published today is a barometer of top business concerns

Carried out by the Financial Times and ICSA, the Boardroom Bellwether survey released today canvasses the views of the FTSE 350. Questions cover a range of general business and topical issues, as well as more specific governance matters. So what does today’s report tell us about post-Election concerns for business?

  • Unsurprisingly, Europe is high on the agenda. 35% of companies said that Brexit was the commitment they’d least like to see taken forward by the new government and a majority (63%) believed it would cause some or significant damage to their business. However, equally interesting is the fact that a third of respondents didn’t think Brexit would have any impact at all on their company – a pretty significant minority. Despite concern, most companies (61%) are uncertain whether they would be willing to speak out publicly to keep the UK in the EU. Only 7% said they would be willing to speak out and, similarly, only 6% said supporting EU membership would be the one thing their company would ask the new government to do. This suggests that, even behind the scenes, businesses are reticent to put their heads above the parapet on this contentious political issue. However this issue is only likely to move up the agenda as renegotiation continues and referendum gets closer.
  • In the short-term at least, the Election result has not caused great sea changes in companies in terms of their immediate expansion strategy. Two thirds of respondents said that the result of the UK general election would not impact their company expansion plans in UK and Europe over the next 12 months. However a fairly significant minority, 16%, said the Election result meant they would increase expansion.
  • Companies are however planning to spend more, with 53% of respondents saying that capital expenditure would be likely to increase over the next year – a rise from 29% in December 2014. Arguably this is likely to be more related to an increasing sense of economic confidence rather than political developments. It’s worth noting that the survey was conducted immediately after the Election, but we assume prior to the Emergency Budget last week – and so it remains to be seen how new policies such as the National Living Wage will impact business confidence and growth.
  • Interest in social media is increasing, but only 37% of respondents describe having a social media strategy as important, which the report points out is ‘surprising given the reputational risks that can be associated with it’. A third of respondents (34%) said that they had not discussed social media at all at board level in the last year – but although this seems high it’s worth noting that it is considerably reduced compared with the 49% that reported this back in December. This suggests that social media is receiving greater attention at board level over time. However, some companies may be missing out on the potential of digital generally and social media in particular.
  • Not everything is becoming digital by default though, with companies retaining hard copy communications for particular stakeholders. 21% of respondents report that more than half of their shareholders still receive paper rather than electronic communications.

Download the full report from the FT and ICSA here.