About eight in 10 investor relations officers (81 percent) expect to engage in M&A transactions in 2021, according to a new survey from the National Investor Relations Institute and Gladstone Place Partners.

That’s a healthy increase from the 67 percent who made that prediction last year.

However, most of those transactions are expected to be lower-risk “bolt-on” deals, with only 18 percent of respondents saying they were likely to participate in “transformative” deals.

The main driver behind potential acquisitions was the need for growth (29 percent), followed by industry consolidation pressure (24 percent).

National Investors Relations Institute & Gladstone Place Partners Survey
View full NIRI/Gladstone Place Partners Survey (PDF)

Regarding the biggest threats posed by activist investors, financial performance and capital allocation were each seen as their company’s most vulnerable area by 30 percent of respondents.

The power of ESG initiatives was big for companies—but not so pivotal for investors—the survey found. A majority of respondents (53 percent) said they expect their company to allocate “significantly increased resources” to ESG concerns, with 33 percent anticipating “slightly more resources” to go toward ESG. Only four percent think that less resources will be allocated.

But when asked about shareholders, the story is different. More than two-thirds of respondents (68 percent) said they had not received any shareholder pressure to increase the diversity of their company’s board. In addition, only 28 percent said that ESG issues were seen as a major reason for shareholders to sell their stock in a company.

The survey also asked which component of ESG respondents thought was the most important. “Social” was the big gainer there, up from nine percent last year to 33 percent this year. “Governance” was also up slightly, from 30 percent to 32 percent, with “Environmental” seeing a slight dip from 24 percent to 22 percent.

When it comes to what the policies of the Biden administration are likely to be as regards M&A transactions, respondents were fairly evenly split. Slightly more than half (51 percent) expect Biden to take a more aggressive stance on antitrust regulations, with five percent thinking he will take a less aggressive approach and 44 percent expecting things to remain pretty much the same.

“We see from the survey and our own backlog that that strategic transactions are picking up, and that the lower-risk types of transaction and bolt-ons are on the rise,” said Gladstone Place Partners CEO Steve Lipin. “2021 will be the year of bolt-ons and SPACs.”