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Insurance companies brace for JobKeeper changes

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Almost half of insurance and finance businesses responding to a survey say they are accessing the Federal Government's JobKeeper scheme, and a similar number say upcoming changes will hit them hard.

This month’s Sensis Business Index surveyed 500 Australian businesses, and 45% of respondents in the insurance and finance industry say they are accessing JobKeeper for themselves or staff, 47% say it will be critical to keep their business open over coming months, and 42% feel changes to JobKeeper will have a “major impact”.

The scheme, which pays a portion of employee salaries for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to end in March.

Across all 10 industries surveyed, 51% of respondents say the JobKeeper scheme will be critical in coming months. The survey reveals some big differences in the capital cities, with 70% of Melbourne businesses saying JobKeeper would be critical but just 29% agreeing in Sydney.

Sensis CEO John Allan says there has been an improvement in the economic outlook from Australian small businesses since last month’s survey but the number of businesses that expect the national economy to worsen was still high, headed by Canberra at 64%.

“There are some optimistic signs out there,” Mr Allan said. “Every state had a drop in the number of businesses that thought the national economy would be worse in 12 months.”

Of 10 industry sectors surveyed, seven scored higher for being “extremely confident” about the next six months, while retail, manufacturing and wholesale were less optimistic.

In Sydney, 22% of businesses are extremely confident about the next six months, up from 12% a month ago, while even in locked down Melbourne there was a jump to 16% from 9%. Confidence was also up in Brisbane and Adelaide.

Melbourne has gone from 19% of businesses being extremely worried to just 7% - though just 23% of businesses believe the Victorian economy will be better in 12 months, down from 35% a month ago.

In the insurance and finance category, 31% expect the nation’s economy to be worse a year from now, while 21% say staffing numbers have fallen 10-30% due to COVID-19 and 26% say their business wouldn't have survived without JobKeeper.

Asked how confident they felt about business prospects over the next six months, 19% in insurance and finance are extremely confident about the future, 45% are fairly confident, 14% are fairly worried and 5% are extremely worried about the future.

To keep their business open, 33% in insurance and finance say they will increase prices and 39% plan to reduce staff, while 11% will invest in technology or move location and 44% expand their online business.