Press Release Press Release


April 18, 2013

Latest Commerzbank study: Mittelstand passing up growth potential abroad

  • Germany’s Mittelstand well positioned internationally, exports remain a success factor – yet significantly more companies are passing up the potential to do business abroad than was the case five years ago
  • Successful international companies are expanding their business, but only a mere 9 per cent of the potential “globalisers” are considering expanding abroad
  • One of the main reasons: 81 per cent of companies expect the global economy to weaken in the coming years as a consequence of the euro crisis
  • BDI President Grillo: “Competitive conditions in Germany the basis for success abroad”

The results of the latest study by the Commerzbank initiative UnternehmerPerspektiven reveal an ambivalent picture of the international position of the Mittelstand. Only 9 per cent of the surveyed companies are currently planning to expand their business activities beyond Germany’s borders – in a study from 2007 this figure was as high as 23 per cent. The proportion of companies already operating internationally remained virtually the same, however. 61 per cent of the companies currently see that products and services from their sector are increasingly being traded internationally (26 percentage points more than in 2007). This internationalisation pressure is countered by the fact that only about one quarter of the potential companies currently sees favourable framework conditions for a move abroad – here the crisis in the eurozone is an obstacle. For the study with the title ‘New markets, new opportunities – internationalisation as a driver of growth’ not only were 4,000 proprietors and managing directors from Germany’s Mittelstand surveyed, but also persons in positions of responsibility at the foreign sites of German companies, as well as some 150 economists at German universities.

“On the one hand, there are the companies which ventured into new markets a long time ago already and are now utilising growth opportunities. On the other hand, Mittelstand companies which are not yet active in foreign markets are currently finding it difficult to take the first step,” is how Markus Beumer, a member of the Board of Managing Directors of Commerzbank AG, summarised the results in Frankfurt. “Yet the study also shows that despite all the scepticism, Germany’s Mittelstand is well positioned in international business,” adds Beumer. The typical path – growth into neighbouring EU countries first of all, then pushing ahead with internationalisation in more distant markets – is not very attractive at present for many Mittelstand companies because of the meagre economic outlook in the eurozone. “Yet there is no way round moving into foreign markets. More than never before it is important to plan well, establish networks, and get advice from other companies, from business federations and chambers of industry, and naturally also from us banks,” added Beumer. 

Initial move abroad now more difficult due to volatile framework conditions

One reason for the reticence of companies with the potential for successful internationalisation is formed by the flagging framework conditions seen in the global economy. Four out of five Mittelstand companies in Germany expect to see a weak economy in the eurozone in the coming three to five years. Nearly 90 per cent of the entrepreneurs are generally preparing themselves for limited growth. At the same time 85 per cent are demanding intensification of foreign trade outside of the EU. The surveyed economists share the concerns of the entrepreneurs, yet, on the whole, are more optimistic in their assessment of economic developments in the coming years, in particular with a view to regulatory risks. Thus only 8 per cent of the economists assume there will be a restriction on export surpluses by the EU, while 30 per cent of the surveyed Mittelstand companies expect to see corresponding measures. Moreover, 60 per cent of the entrepreneurs are worried by the prospect of sharp inflation in the eurozone. 

Mittelstand companies intensifying presence abroad

“The good news is that the international competitiveness of German companies continues to increase. Two thirds of the internationally active German Mittelstand companies are also availing of growth opportunities outside the established markets in Europe, North America and Japan. In addition, the companies have intensified their local positioning in foreign markets,” says Beumer. In contrast to the study from 2007 the proportion of internationally active companies which have established long-term cooperations, joint ventures or have their own sites abroad has risen considerably: One in three internationally active Mittelstand companies is now contractually bound to foreign partners (increase from 19 to 33 per cent), while one in four (increase from 21 to 25 per cent) maintains its own foreign site. 

The success confirms this strategy: 83 per cent of the internationally active companies report that products and services of German companies are described as “leading” by customers abroad. 75 per cent feel they are appreciated because of their cutting edge in terms of technology and innovation. “Our export successes are not sure-fire ones. So that our companies are also just as successful on the international markets in the future, we have to maintain and expand the competitiveness of Germany as a base for industry,” commented Ulrich Grillo, President of the BDI and the patron of the study, at the presentation of the results. “Only if there are competitive conditions here at home, can our companies grow and expand, so that they are also able to assert themselves in international competition in the future.” 

Concerns growing over currency risks and product piracy

Internationally active companies are increasingly noticing difficulties in foreign business over which they themselves have very little control. A lack of legal security, legal obstacles and trade barriers are the difficulties most often cited, each with 58 per cent. For half of the Mittelstand companies currency risks are an obstacle; five years ago this was only a concern for 38 per cent of the respondents. 40 per cent of all companies with foreign sales state that the protection of intellectual property presents a major challenge. This is 13 percentage points more than in 2007. Companies with sales in BRIC states and threshold countries are already particularly sensitised to this problem. 

The initiative UnternehmerPerspektiven and its studies

UnternehmerPerspektiven is an initiative of Commerzbank. Its goal is that of establishing a forum for topics which affect Mittelstand companies in Germany and of providing a platform for them to air their views. The basis for this is formed by representative surveys of 4,000 Mittelstand companies in Germany. For the current 13th study economists at German universities were also surveyed, as were persons in positions of responsibility at the foreign sites of German companies. The results of the study are discussed – also on public podia – with representatives of business and business federations, with politicians and academics so as to generate mutual trust and develop viable solutions for the challenges faced by the Mittelstand.


The full version of the latest study as well as further information on the initiative is to be found under


Press contact:

Martin Halusa:   0170 852 8638

Bernd Reh:       0170 914 3734




About Commerzbank

Commerzbank is a leading bank in Germany and Poland. It is also present worldwide in all markets for its customers as a partner to the business world. With the business areas Private Customers, Mittelstandsbank, Corporates & Markets and Central & Eastern Europe, it offers its private and corporate clients as well as institutional investors the banking and capital market services they need. With some 1,200 branches Commerzbank has one of the densest branch networks among German private banks. In total, Commerzbank boasts nearly 15 million private customers, as well as 1 million business and corporate clients. In 2012, it generated revenues of just under EUR 10 billion with approximately 56,000 employees on average.