Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be hardest hit by conversion to the European currency, but UK banks are doing little to help them.
This is the conclusion of two separate research studies, commissioned by Unisys and Systems Union respectively. The Unisys report, carried out by Neaman Bond, surveyed 355 European companies and found that less that half of UK financial institutions are working with their SME customers and suppliers to help them adapt to European Monetary Union (Emu).
The Systems Union survey, carried out by Tate Bramald, found that only one in 10 mid-market companies had set up a specific Emu team and under half had requested Emu information or help from their IT suppliers.
Simon Edwards, Emea region chief executive of Systems Union, said: "Mid-market organisations in the UK are an overlooked sector, not receiving support from external agencies or government like their smaller counterparts, and not having the financial muscle of larger corporates."
Some medium-sized companies are suffering from over optimism, the survey suggests. One-third feel their financial IT systems are already Euro compliant, although most experts believe almost all accounting software in the world will need to be modified.
The Unisys research said the UK finance sector was taking a "low profile in assisting UK business", especially in the SME category, even though it is generally ahead of European finance companies in preparing for Emu. This reflects the "defensive and commercially conservative" nature of the sector, says the study.
By contrast, European respondents mentioned banks as one of their primary and most useful sources of information and help about converting for the Euro. There was no such response in the UK, where medium-sized companies were most likely to look to the Web for advice.
The lack of knowledge about the Euro is as great a problem among the UK's smaller companies as the shortage of IT skills, believes Unisys, showing that banks could play a more proactive role. Systems Union's Edwards, however, believes help must come from government and calls for an initiative directed specifically at the mid-market, similar to ones that exist for very small businesses. This is particularly urgent, he argues, as about one-third of companies in this category trade in more than one currency and over half will trade in the Euro by 2001.
Most of the UK companies Unisys surveyed said they had an IT strategy for the Euro but it was at the early business planning phase, while the majority of mainland companies claimed to be at the systems roll-out stage. Only 20 per cent of UK companies are considering software tools for their Euro projects or know how much code will be involved.
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