Global Business Monitor

Insights from SMEs in Canada and around the world

This year’s research surveyed 2,300 small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across 13 countries: Canada, USA, Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The report presents the opinions of owners and senior decision-makers of SMEs across the manufacturing, wholesale, transport, and services sectors.

The Global Business Monitor reports business sentiment on topics including confidence, sales expectations, the economy, access to finance and business challenges, including the causes of cash flow problems.

Download the BFS Global Business Monitor - Canada report to discover where Canadian SMEs see their best opportunities and challenges for the coming year. Or download the international edition for insights on how Canadian SMEs compare with their global counterparts.

Download the Canada report

Key findings

  • Canadian SMEs remain relatively confident in the economy at home with 54% rating it as good and 39% believing that it will improve in the next 12 months
  • One in three (34%) SMEs struggle with cash flow
  • Business investment is high amongst Canadian SMEs with 89% planning to invest
  • SMEs are engaging in international trade with 42% of exporters stating that exports account for more than 50% of their sales
  • More than one in three SMEs say access to finance is requirement to help them start exporting
  • Access to finance has gotten tougher for SMEs in the last two years

It is an exciting time for Canadian SMEs. Despite current challenges and wariness about the global economy, Canadian businesses remain strong and in good position to take advantage of growth opportunities at home and abroad. Kash Ahmad, Managing Director, Bibby Financial Services, Canada

Global Business Monitor

SME business sentiment

Despite the past months’ sluggish economic performance, Canadian SMEs are optimistic about the economy at home with 50% feeling that the current economic performance is good, and 39% expecting it to improve in the next 12 months.

Nevertheless, since 2017 a growing number of businesses feel that market conditions are poor and will worsen in the coming months. The global economic uncertainty is probably behind this trend of polarization amongst SMEs as they wonder if the Canadian economy can weather another recession in the US as it did 10 years ago.

Global Business Monitor

Business challenges

Canadian SMEs are struggling with rising costs and overheads and one in three cite cash flow management as their greatest challenge. Late payment from slow paying customers was identified as one of the chief causes of cash flow problems by nearly half of SMEs.


Global trade

Canadian SMEs have the potential to gain a strong place in global trade as leading participants. This is reflected in how engaged small companies are in international trade. Though less than a third (28%) of the Canadian businesses surveyed export goods, nearly half (42%) report high involvement in international trade with exports accounting for over half (50%) of their revenue.

Given its geographical proximity and large scale market, it comes as no surprise that Canadian companies rank the USA as the country with the most perceived opportunity for importing (37%) and exporting (60%).

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Access to finance for SMEs

Access to finance has gotten tougher in the last two years with 21% currently rating availability as poor vs. only 7% in 2017. The proportion of respondents who have been rejected for external finance also increased slightly to 12% in 2019, from 9% in 2017.

SMEs state poor credit history as the main reason lenders rejected their applications for funding. As availability of credit tightens, businesses will probably begin to explore alternative funding solutions.

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Payment practices

Late payment is a universal issue impacting businesses across the world and Canadian SMEs are not spared. On a positive note, businesses reported that in 2019 it takes 23 days to receive payment from customers, down from 40 days in 2017.

The improvement in payment practices has led to fewer SMEs reporting suffering from bad debt in the past 12 months (29% in 2019 vs 34% in 2017).

Businesses reported an average loss of $32,763 due to bad debt. As a result, their business growth was affected (43%) and some even had to lay off staff (12%).

Download the report

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