Trailblazing British businesses embrace international expansion opportunity

  • Half of high-growth businesses plan to increase their international presence over the next 12 months
  • A third of high growth businesses planning to grow in Europe, followed by North America and Asia
  • Britain’s fastest growth businesses are more positive about the impact of Brexit on growth

High growth companies have ambitious international growth plans over the next 12 months, according to new research from Santander Corporate & Commercial1.

The research found that trailblazing businesses - businesses which have experienced 20% revenue growth over the past 12 months or expect to do so over the next year - are more likely to trade internationally or have ambitions to do so when compared to their lower growth counterparts. Nearly three quarters (74%) of these trailblazers already operate in overseas markets or intend to start exporting within the next 12 months, compared with 63% of businesses with slower levels of growth.

Looking forward, 50% are planning to increase their international sales in the year ahead, against less than a third (30%) of lower growth businesses.

John Carroll, Head of International and Transactional Banking at Santander Corporate & Commercial, said: “Trailblazers are leading the way by grabbing the opportunities that are out there for British goods and services across international markets. The desire to take risks, to have confidence in your product and your people puts businesses in the best position to succeed, especially at a time of economic uncertainty. These attributes set the Trailblazers apart from their competitors. Santander understands that taking the leap into new and untested waters can seem daunting, but we offer access to global expertise on how to take your product to new territories and secure new customers.”

The research shows, the Trailblazers are generally more positive in their outlook, for example on economic uncertainty, and less likely to see negatives from Brexit than lower-growth firms. A third of those surveyed expect Britain’s departure from the European Union to have a positive impact on their business, compared with just 9% of lower-growth firms.

Trailblazers still see the European Union as presenting the greatest opportunity for international growth (this aligns with the latest Santander Trade Barometer figures2). Nearly a third (31%) plan to increase sales in the EU over the coming year, with North America the second most popular region for international expansion (27%), compared with 15% of lower-growth firms, while 25% are looking to Asia versus 16% of lower growth firms.

In terms of strategies for achieving international growth, mergers and acquisition activity in a chosen market is the most popular choice (22%), followed by setting up a local subsidiary (18%). Other options for UK SMEs to begin or expand trading overseas are the use of ecommerce, local distributors or local agents (13%) and utilising the knowledge and networks of local partners such as banks and legal advisers (10%).

Helping SMEs to export is a core priority for Santander, utilising the wider Group’s presence in 10 core markets such as the US, Brazil and Mexico as well as alliance partnerships with other banks in countries like France, China, Singapore and India. Santander supports UK SMEs throughout their exporting experience by helping them to identify exporting opportunities using the Trade Portal, to participate in virtual and physical trade missions, to connect businesses with new customers and suppliers, to introduce them to the services they need when setting up internationally and with the knowledge of our specialist sector and international teams. The breadth and scale of this international support is unique to Santander.

For more information on the Trailblazers research and how Santander is helping high growth businesses, visit

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Notes to Editors

  1. Research is based on a survey of over 1,000 businesses conducted by YouGov during November and December 2018. From this sample, we identified a group representing 12% of the total cohort: these are high-growth companies that have grown their revenues by at least 20% over the past 12 months and/or which expect to do so over the coming year. We compared the views of these Trailblazers to those of lower-growth businesses, defined as those currently growing at a rate of less than 10% a year. Businesses lagging the Trailblazers but still achieving strong growth, of 10-19% a year, were excluded from this report. These companies accounted for 23% of the sample.
  2. The Autumn Trade Barometer Report can be found here 

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. It has brought real competition to the UK, through its innovative products for retail customers and relationship banking model for UK SMEs. At 31 December 2018, the bank has c23,800 employees. It serves around 15 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking; and 64 regional Corporate Business Centres. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK. 

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