The FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether is a twice-yearly survey of FTSE 350 companies that seeks to gauge the sentiment inside UK boardrooms. It canvasses the views of their company secretaries to find out how boards are responding to the challenges of the economy, market conditions and the wider business and governance environment.
Questions cover a range of business concerns, topical issues and specific governance concerns to provide unique insight into what British boards are thinking. Some questions change from survey to survey, but the core remains the same to reveal trends and shifts in opinion.
Use the tabs below to explore the key findings of the most recent FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether Survey, published in August 2017.
Boards continue to be pessimistic about growth prospects in the UK and overseas, hardly surprising given the political and economic roller coaster of the first six months of 2017. The UK position is particularly bleak with only 5% of respondents predicting any improvement in economic conditions, down from 13% in summer 2016 and a significant drop from the 74% in July 2015. Over two-thirds (69%) predict a decline, a massive drop in confidence compared with the results of last summer’s survey (24%) which was carried out in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum.
How linked this pessimism is to Brexit, and how much it relates to political and economic uncertainty with an embattled Prime Minister and a slowdown in consumer spending as prices rise and wages fail to keep up, is hard to tell. Continued anxiety about the approach, timing and outcome of the Brexit negotiations is bound to be playing on people’s minds, however, and 54% of respondents feel that leaving the EU will cause some damage to their business.
Despite this, only a third of all respondents are reporting Brexit as a principal risk and plans for capital expenditure are largely unchanged.
It is widely accepted now that building a group which combines a more varied range of experience, culture and mindset enables boards to become more effective, facilitating problem solving, changing attitudes and contributing to more rounded decision making. Yet despite the high-profile initiatives to improve gender balance and broaden ethnic and cultural diversity, progress towards achieving boards that are more representative of their markets and customers remains disappointingly slow.
For the last three years we have seen opinions on the extent to which boards are gender diverse firmly stuck at around 66%. Solutions such as the target-setting of the Davies Review have led to the FTSE appointing women to all FTSE 100 boards, but the same level of progress has not been achieved in the FTSE 250. Moreover, women still remain underrepresented at senior level generally. On the ethnic diversity front, only 31% of respondents consider their boards to be ethnically diverse, but most respondents report that their boards have discussed the Parker Review, which is more heartening.
Companies face mounting pressure to pay more attention to identifying and developing future talent from a much wider pool of candidates in order to improve the spread of experience and perspective. It is disappointing to find that the 40% of respondents who feel their pipeline is insufficient do not seem to have sophisticated plans to resolve the situation. Board composition and building a sustainable pipeline through a transparent long-term succession plan should be a governance priority for all companies.
Worries about political risk have increased considerably compared with previous surveys. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents now rate political risk as increasing, up from 41% in winter 2016 and well ahead of reputation risk (56%) and social media risk (54%). The most likely explanation here is the uncertainty around Brexit.
Predictably enough, cyber risk is still causing the most concern. 85% of respondents believe that their exposure to cyber risk is increasing, up from 80% in December 2016. Two-thirds of respondents are reviewing their exposure at least every six months, up from 52% a year ago. Nearly all (80%) have identified their key information assets and assessed their vulnerability.
Nearly all respondents (91%) have reviewed and discussed their supply chain risks, including their exposure to slavery and corruption issues. This is up considerably from 56% in summer 2016. Two-thirds of respondents believe they have been successful in mitigating the risk, compared with 16% a year ago.
Producing the business model statement is not proving difficult (56% of respondents have no difficulty), and producing the viability statement presents even fewer problems, with 78% reporting no or low difficulty.
The majority of companies seem well prepared for the General Data Protection Regulation requirements which are due to come into effect in May 2018. 93% of respondents say that they will be ready. In contrast, there is less confidence about the new Money Laundering Directive requirements. Just 59% of respondents are ready to comply and 15% claim not be aware of the new requirements.
Not many people are anticipating difficulties around gender pay group/pay ratio reporting.
Financial Times (subscribers only)
The Times (subscribers only)