One in four small businesses in South Africa has been a victim of crime more than once in the past year, according to the interim findings of SME Survey 2008, the latest edition of South Africa's largest annual survey of small, medium and micro enterprises.
This shock finding underscores recent police statements that small businesses have increasingly become victims of crime.
The interim findings of SME Survey 2008 are released halfway through the process of 5 000 interviews with decision-makers at SMEs in South Africa, to give an indication of key findings that will be contained in the final report. The project is sponsored by Standard Bank and Fujitsu Siemens Computers.
"Some small companies that have been impacted by crime have lost more than just their hardware," says Danny de Beer, Alliances Director at Fujitsu Siemens Computers. "They have lost vital information assets, due to not having either the storage capacity or data backup policies in place to protect and secure their vital information."
De Beer adds that many organizations do not consider the value of backup, recovery and archiving solutions until it is too late. "Storage prices and storage complexity has reduced substantially over the past few years and SMEs today have access to enterprise-class solutions – at an SME affordable price. And while this doesn't act as a deterrent towards the crime situation, it most certainly minimises the impact of crime on the continuity of the enterprise."
According to principal researcher Arthur Goldstuck, the fact that there is no change in the reported impact of crime from 2007 to 2008 is an indication that crime has not diminished for the SME.
"We asked what keeps the SME owner awake at night. 27% of respondents have again indicated that crime is a key worry, which mirrors exactly the findings of last year.
"An astonishing 45% of SME owners have been victims of crime, with more than one-third having experienced a crime in the last two years," he says.
Crime, Goldstuck states, is a daily reality for SMEs. "Perhaps more shocking is that one in four SMEs have been victims of crime more than once. This shows how vulnerable businesses are and how difficult protection is, as you tend to increase preventative measures after any incident. But with such a high level of repeat victim, the findings show that crime cannot be beaten at the individual business level."
The only saving grace, such as there is, is that the impact on the business itself is not as great as the extent of the occurrence of incidents would suggest.
The survey has found that 15% of SMEs have lost more than 1% of annual turnover to physical crime, while 71% have lost up to 1% of turnover. Only 7% have lost more than 1% to fraud.
"Physical crime, such as robberies, is a more serious issue and the monetary cost is not as severe as the human consequences," says Goldstuck. "A lot of the crime we are seeing might be 'small fry' in terms of cash value, but that comes with an enormous human cost in terms of psychological and physical effect."