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Welcome to your round up of some of the past week’s most interesting surveys, statistics and reports relevant to those involved in the UK tech industry.

This week, we have statistics relating to the national skills shortage, the adoption of  blockchain for property transactions, FinTech M&As, the digital high street and gender imbalance on senior executive teams.

Skills shortage

The fourth annual “Albion Growth Report” found 50% of small businesses with over five employees are planning to grow their employee base in the next two years.

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However, finding skilled staff was identified as the number one challenge faced by business owners.

The research was based on interviews with 1,000 SMEs, and revealed the biggest skills gap reported by SMEs is marketing (26%). This is followed by new technology (21%), business planning (17%) and financial management (9%).

The technology skills gap was found to be the widest in Scotland (34%) and London (25%).

Patrick Reeve, managing partner at Albion Ventures, commented: “Policymakers charged with deciding our post-Brexit future must recognise that many of the skills that enable us to compete in a fast-changing and increasingly competitive world are in short supply and our best chance of overcoming this challenge is by building on the UK’s first class reputation as a home for global talent.”

Blockchain & property

Research from real estate investment platform BrickVest revealed 56% of investors believe the real estate industry will adopt blockchain technology for property transactions.

Some 31% of respondents think blockchain will be common practice, and 44% claim to be already ‘familiar’ with the technology. Only 2% claim to be ‘very familiar’, however.

Emmanuel Lumineau, CEO at BrickVest, commented: “Property investors are becoming more familiar with blockchain and many can see the transformational power it will have on the sector by simplifying, de-risking and lowering the cost of buying and selling assets.

“Blockchain is capable of turning the entire financial system on its head as transactions can now be directly exchanged in a transparent, cost-effective and secure way between two parties. Given the speed of technological change and increased pressure from investors for greater transparency and reduced costs, it’s likely that blockchain will be adopted earlier than many investors think.

“Blockchain technology has already made the online investment market more fluid whilst acting as an interesting tool for the secondary market, enabling smaller investments and trade volumes. These smaller investments were not possible before due to the cost of the middle man,” he concluded.

FinTech M&As

White & Case LLP’s thought leadership report, “Fintech M&A: From threat to opportunity” indicates 54% of financial respondents are looking to collaborate with mature FinTech companies.

Some 70% said it was a major part of their corporate strategy, and 95% claimed they expect to do a FinTech deal within the next 1-2 years.

Despite this, 39% said they would not be branching into new areas, instead focusing on growing the existing line of business.

Digital high street

Research by 123 Reg revealed 3 in 5 people said online searches favour large chain stores rather than independent businesses.

Some 45% also said it can be hard to find a good range of smaller and larger businesses online.

The study also found the cities of Birmingham and Manchester favour big brands the most, with further research revealing only a fifth of the cities’ shops and services searched were small businesses.

In contrast, four in ten of businesses listed in Glasgow and Sheffield city centres were independent stores.

Nick Leech, digital director at 123 Reg, said: “Much like the modern UK high street, the online high street has become all too similar, largely because bigger businesses outperform small independents in local SEO. The key is to be visible wherever people are searching, and for this you need to have a good search engine ranking and ensure you are included in all the relevant local directories.

“If more small businesses managed to crack local SEO, the value it could bring to both their online and offline presence could be enormous, and in turn, the digital high street could be turned on its head. It’s been proven it can have a big advantage in terms of footfall – half of everyone who searches for shops or services in their local area on their mobile actually visit the shop that same day,” he added.

Gender balance

A survey conducted at the Thomson Reuters Change Makers Summit revealed 55% of attendees believe unconscious bias to be the biggest barrier to achieving gender balance on senior executive teams.

The anonymous survey was conducted throughout the event to gather views from an audience consisting of representatives from 56 global firms.

Some 96% also believed that unconscious bias is present at recruitment level, and remains consistent to mid-level management.

Additionally, 71% predicted it will take 5-10 years before their organisation have a balanced representation in senior executive roles, and 100% of respondents believe work practices need to change before gender balance at the top of some sectors can be achieved.

Respondents thought public scrutiny would be the biggest incentive for firms to take action against gender imbalance (48%). This was followed by food business sense (33%) and internal pressure (19%).

Susan Taylor Martin, president of legal at Thomson Reuters, commented: “Survey findings like these reveal the need for global businesses to make long-term, measurable commitments to gender balance if they are to be successful in the future.”

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