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Despite the significant rise in the profile of artificial intelligence (AI), the UK’s SMEs are largely undecided about the impact it will have on their business, sector and jobs. The findings are taken from the latest independent research from Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing.

Two-thirds of the 907 respondents are of the view that AI will have a bearing on their business, but are undecided about the scale, with 20% thinking it will have a large impact compared to just 9% who say it won’t have a measurable impact.

Business owners are split down the middle about whether to incorporate AI into their business processes, with 41% saying they will against 40% who have no intention of doing so. The remaining 19% haven’t yet made up their minds.

The key question about potential job losses brought about by AI also divided the crowd, with 42% saying AI will lead to large scale job losses in their sector; 43% are of the opposite view while 15% are unsure:


UK total 

42% 43% 15%
Construction  43% 45% 12%
Engineering  44% 43% 13%
Food and Drink  42% 40% 18%
Manufacturing  40% 42% 18%
Print and Packaging 52% 40% 8%
Recruitment  40% 44% 16%
Agriculture  38% 48% 13%
Services (e.g. Finance, healthcare, Education, IT)  46% 35% 19%
Transport & Haulage  34% 49% 17%
Wholesale and distribution  39% 46% 15%

While many see AI as a potential threat, more of the UK’s SME business owners see the technology presenting opportunities for growth and employment in their sector than those who do not.

The business areas (in order) most at risk from AI – according to respondents – are:

  1. Customer service
  2. Administration
  3. Marketing
  4. Operations
  5. Accounting
  6. HR
  7. Sales
  8. Legal

Matt Roper (pictured), CEO of Close Brothers’ Commercial business, said: “Artificial Intelligence already impacts us on a daily basis in hundreds of ways, from route mapping to using chat bots to answer questions, and it’s only likely to become more prominent in the coming years.

“Our research is telling us a number of things; firstly, there’s an understandable lack of consensus about AI’s current and potential impact, largely because it’s only gained traction in the public imagination fairly recently. There’s also no agreed definition of what AI actually is.

“Secondly, there’s a recognition that it could present opportunities for firms to use AI to their advantage, particularly in those sectors that are more reliant on digital innovation.

“And lastly, firms aren’t yet sure quite how to incorporate AI into their business processes.”