Business Owners Reveal Strong Support for Trump Administration, but Majority Fear Recession and Trade Could Impact Success, New Study Finds

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June 27, 2019
First Wilmington Trust Business Owners Outlook, “Risky Business,” shows wide gaps between perception and reality, and explains how to bridge the divide

Key findings include:
  • 59% of wealthy business owners surveyed approve of the Trump administration
  • 53% of business owners say the Trump administration has had a significant or somewhat positive effect on their business
  • 46% say their confidence in the administration has significantly or somewhat increased since the election
  • The top three external risks cited by business owners as potential threats to their business success are related to economic and government policies: recession (39%), U.S. trade policy (36%), and inflation (33%)
NEW YORK—Owners of privately held U.S. businesses strongly or somewhat support the Trump administration (59%) and are overwhelmingly optimistic (98%) about their ability to meet their personal financial goals in the coming years. Asked to name their three primary external risks, business owners identified recession (39%), U.S. trade policy (36%), and inflation (33%) as the leading threats that could negatively impact their business success. These are among the key findings of Wilmington Trust’s inaugural quarterly Business Owners Outlook, subtitled “Risky Business.”
The risks
The Outlook, based on a survey of more than 1,000 wealthy business owners across the United States, suggests that though business owners fear substantial threats from issues such as trade, recession, the volatile political environment, and rising healthcare costs, many are ill-prepared to address these risks in the event of an economic downturn due to a lack of integrated business and wealth planning, and undiversified investment portfolios.
“Business owners, by their nature, tend to be self-assured. Considering today’s pro-business political environment and the record-setting economic expansion, it is not surprising that they often are wearing rose-colored glasses when looking toward their future,” said Tony Roth, chief investment officer, Wilmington Trust Investment Advisor, Inc. “But this optimism may be failing to price in the potential impact of an extended trade war, an inevitable recession, or a change of power in Washington. Our survey shows that while business owners have identified these threats, they generally have not begun to prepare for the impact on their business and personal wealth.” 

The great divide
Behind the optimism lurks an even greater divide between perception and reality on watershed topics, such as the economy, geopolitical issues, business transition, succession, and wealth planning. This disconnect and the resulting actions business owners are taking–or not taking–may pose a risk to their ability to achieve their long-term professional and personal goals. These findings include:
  • 55% intend to pass on the business to their children, but nearly half (46%) haven’t fully discussed this with their heirs
  • 65% of business owners are married, yet they have no transition plan in place should one of the spouses die or they decide to divorce
  • 68% say they have a business succession plan but only 18% have written and communicated it to stakeholders
“Most business owners we speak with think they are well-planned, but far too often they haven’t reevaluated their transition and estate plans in light of shifts in the tax law, changes in the economic cycle, or new investment opportunities,” said Alvina Lo, chief wealth strategist, Wilmington Trust, N.A.. “It is critical they review their plans regularly, because important factors change, such as valuation, policies and regulations, the priorities of your next generation of successors, and even your marital status.”
Strategies for the well-planned business owner
Most experts agree that comprehensive planning requires tight coordination. Almost all business owners surveyed (98%) expressed confidence that they will achieve their long-term financial objectives.   Yet more than four in 10 business owners admit they are worried about exactly this. The report offers a checklist of the top strategies for a well-planned business owner, prescriptive guidance, and wealth and tax planning insights.
About Wilmington Trust’s Business Owners Outlook
Conducted online in May and June of 2019, Wilmington Trust surveyed 1,011 owners of businesses (for a 3.1 margin of error (MOE) at a 95% confidence level) with at least $10 million in revenue throughout the United States, across multiple industries. and asked them a series of questions about business valuation, succession planning, the business environment, reform and legislation impact, philanthropy, and risks.  Finally, the data was weighted to reflect business owner age distributions as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Wilmington Trust Business Owners Outlook builds on the 10-year history of M&T Bank’s Economic Outlook, a quarterly survey of senior managers and owners of small to mid-size businesses. For more information on the Business Owner Outlook 2Q2019, visit
About Wilmington Trust
Wilmington Trust is a registered service mark, used in connection with various fiduciary and non-fiduciary services, including trustee, custodial, agency, investment management, and other services, offered to trust, individual, and institutional clients by certain subsidiaries and affiliates of Wilmington Trust Corporation. Such subsidiaries and affiliates include, but are not limited to, Manufacturers & Traders Trust Company (M&T Bank), Wilmington Trust Company (operating in Delaware only), Wilmington Trust, N.A., Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors, Inc., Wilmington Funds Management Corporation, and Wilmington Trust Investment Management, LLC. Wilmington Trust Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of M&T Bank Corporation. International corporate and institutional services are offered through Wilmington Trust Corporation’s international affiliates. Loans, credit cards, retail and business deposits, and other business and personal banking services and products are offered by M&T Bank, member FDIC.
Wilmington Trust maintains offices throughout the United States and internationally in London, Paris, Dublin, and Frankfurt. For more information, visit
This Outlook is for educational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service or as a determination that any investment strategy is suitable for a specific investor.

Media Contact:
Maya Dillon
Director of Corporate Communications
phone: (212) 415-0557
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