Firms in Wales boost online protection but lack appetite for essential digital skills

Businesses in Wales have stepped up their protection against cyber threats in 2019, but a lack of interest in other digital tactics could be holding them back, according to Lloyds Bank’s latest Business Digital Index (BDI).

The annual report, the largest of its kind into digital skills, polled 1,500 small businesses across the UK, with 120 from Wales. The report combines survey data with businesses’ transactional data to understand their digital behaviours and intentions.

The security index for the region, which outlines whether firms are protecting themselves against hackers and fraudsters, has shot up by 20 points on last year to 50. An index reading of zero indicates a lack of online cybersecurity capabilities while a reading of 100 shows robust defensive measures are in place.

The region’s businesses also have a higher-than-average interest in security. Four in five (80 per cent) have already invested in their cyber security skills, or plan to in future, compared with 78 per cent nationally.

But despite these advances in cyber security, a lack of Essential Digital Skills could be hampering opportunities to boost sales or productivity. Four in 10 (45 per cent) firms in Wales lack the full range of Essential Digital Skills, in line with the national average.

Businesses in Wales had a low appetite to build their digital strategy and leadership skills too, with only four in 10 (41 per cent) either having done so or are planning to do so in future in line with the national trend.

Wales sits just above the UK average for attaining skills, or having plans to build them, in search engine optimisation (SEO) (55 per cent, four points above the UK average), social media and marketing (58 per cent, three points above the UK average), and customer data analytics (44 per cent, three points above the UK average).

Carys Williams, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for Wales, said:

“With cyber-attacks taking place every two-and-a-half minutes, it’s more vital than ever that firms put steps in place to protect themselves.

“It’s reassuring to see the extent of the progress being made here in Wales, but with a staggering 45 per cent of businesses still lacking Essential Digital Skills, I am genuinely concerned that Wales will get left behind if firms don’t start to invest in digital skills training.

“Our research found that an average small business in the UK with strong digital skills and behaviours earned around £260,000 more a year. This is money that could be spent on hiring more staff, training employees and growing the business.

“To catch up with the UK’s tech hubs like London, Bristol and Manchester, businesses in Wales  need to invest more in areas such as SEO, social media and data analytics.”

Nationally, a third (33 per cent) of firms said they had increased turnover and efficiency as a result of becoming more tech-savvy.

The report also found a national trend that small businesses that are less than three years old had better digital skills, with more than two thirds (69 per cent) of this group having all six Essential Digital Skills. UK businesses without these were also almost two and a half times more likely to be closing down in the next two years compared with those more skilled. 

To help business in Wales boost their digital skills, Lloyds Bank hosts regular Digital Know How events across the country and has 1,500 specially trained digital champions based in Wales.