That compares to 4 per cent for German small firms using the Chinese currency, and 12 per cent for those from the US.
Those British businesses not currently using RMB also tend to have more concrete plans to start using the currency in the future than those in other countries. More than a quarter of UK firms, 26 per cent, are planning to start using RMB, similar to 25 per cent of German businesses and far ahead of 11 per cent of French businesses.
In terms of optimism about RMB internationalisation, UK firms also left rivals behind. Around 29 per cent of UK businesses believe RMB will become a fully internationally-traded currency like the dollar or the euro in the next five years.
That compares with 23 per cent of French businesses, 15 per cent of German firms and 14 per cent of US firms.
HSBC said the main driver behind the increased use of the RMB to settle international trade was the depreciation of the currency in 2014.
HSBC’s UK head of global trade and receivables finance, Mark Emmerson, said: “UK companies are recognising the benefits of RMB and taking advantage. It’s particularly encouraging to see that our small businesses are leading their peers when it comes to settling in RMB with their export and import partners. These companies aren’t just talking about RMB; they are buying and selling goods and services in the Chinese currency.”
He added that although the survey showed that UK businesses were relatively “positive and confident” about adopting the Chinese currency, it also indicated a “persistent lack of understanding among non-users in all markets about the full benefits that using RMB can offer”.
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More than half of all businesses internationally indicated a poor understanding of the advantages of using RMB, with only seven per cent claiming a “very good understanding” of RMB benefits.
In the UK, 45 per cent of businesses cited an understanding of the benefits of RMB very well or quite well, on a par with businesses in the US, 46 per cent, and Germany, 48 per cent – but behind markets in Asia such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Emmerson added: “2014 was clearly the year that RMB entered the business mainstream, but we all need to do more to make the benefits of RMB clear and understandable for UK firms. Whether it’s reducing their exposure to currency fluctuations, or simply getting a cheaper price from a supplier, the benefits of trading in the currency of the world’s biggest trading nation are too great to ignore.”