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The Business Of Rebuilding Trust

Photograph by Christopher Pearce


City of London lord mayor Charles Bowman sits down with PwC Australia CEO Luke Sayers to talk about practical ways business can win back trust.

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INDUSTRY: LEADERSHIP Luke Sayers: Trust in an organisation, especially in the financial services sector, is under increased scrutiny with lots of talk about the need to rebuild trust.

Charles Bowman: This is an issue not just confined to Australia. The tragedy is that people all over the world rely on the services the financial services industry provides, and many have a stake in its success.

Trust is the lifeblood of any organisation. It is the single biggest determinant of long-term, sustainable success. The world is such a small place, now it is so interconnected. One blemish on one financial services organisation is a blemish on all.

Sayers: You have come up with some ways to rebuild trust?

Bowman: That’s right. We started looking at why the trust deficit exists and came up with a set of guiding principles that can help shape an organisation’s behaviour. And then we went further and defined the practical steps businesses can take to bring the principles to life.

Sayers: How did you do it?

Bowman: Through day-long citizens’ juries in London, Nottingham and Edinburgh. And it was really interesting. We found that people were tired of distrusting banks and they understood the contribution they made to employment, tax revenue and trade and wanted things to get better.

Sayers: I think you might find the same results here.

Bowman: We then got together a group of industry leaders and distilled many years of guidelines and codes of conduct and we came up with five things called CIVIC principles – competence and skills, integrity, value to society, interests of others and clear communication. So, let me ask, which resonates the most loudly with you?

Sayers: They all resonate. However, the one for me personally is integrity.

It’s very hard to do a number of the other principles if you don’t have absolute highest integrity culturally, values-wise and people-wise within your organisation. As a leader you set the tone right from the top, with the values you want your people to bring to life every day.

Bowman: We also came up with five practical suggestions for building trust: do what you do well, do the right thing, have a wider purpose, focus on stakeholders and communicate clearly. Which action do you agree with most?

Sayers: Having a wider purpose. Brand PwC, which is also culture PwC, needs to do amazing work for clients, but also to step outside our comfort zone and play a more purposeful role in society. That’s about standing for opinions and perspectives that are right for society. PwC’s 2018 CEO Survey found that nearly 40 per cent of CEOs feel pressure from employees and customers to take political and social stances in public. Employees today are hungry for an organisation that gives them some freedom of expression and an ability to influence society.

Bowman: Yes, it’s businesses looking beyond profit optimisation or profit maximisation to provide a sense of purpose for the business and those people who work within the business.

Sayers: And the organisations that can’t provide that will miss out on the best and brightest talent and also clients who are looking for an aligned purpose. CEOs who place equal focus on their bottom line, their people, their customers and their community will be the companies that thrive into the future.

Bowman: What do you think is the silver bullet to build trust?

Sayers: Companies and their leaders need to be more articulate and transparent of both rights and wrongs. There needs to be a much more open and engaging approach by business. The transparency piece is pivotal.

A company might have a great purpose and do wonderful work to help society but if it isn’t effectively communicated, or the leader doesn’t take accountability for failings, then they are not going to bridge the trust divide.

Employees are also a critical part of the answer – if your workforce is advocating for you at BBQ conversations because they believe in the company and what they are doing, you are halfway there. In our latest CEO Survey, 89 per cent of Australia’s CEOs believe that being transparent and focused on a company’s values helps build trust with their workforce. So, a question for you: how vital is leadership in restoring trust?

Bowman: Critical. You won’t rebuild trust without it. But it is not unique and alone. What good leaders do is empower their organisations, particularly those in the middle.

If you can engage and empower the disenfranchised middle of any business, then you will build a cohesive trust story. In many companies, people arrive motivated, keen, wanting to make a difference and then all of a sudden, they find themselves in the middle of an organisation, with different pressures on them. That is the community you need to get onboard.

CIVIC principles: the way to sustainable success

  • Competence and skills – or doing what you do well.
  • Integrity – or being straightforward and reliable.
  • Value to society – and helping to meet wider societal needs.
  • The interests of others – and respecting the interests of customers, employees and investors.
  • Clear communication – or transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

The Press is a publication by PwC Australia, aimed at sharing expertise, capturing insights and working together to solve important problems.

This article first appeared in Edition 5 of The Press
By Lucille Keen, Senior Reporter, The Press

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