Consumer trust is growing (for some)

Edelman's Trust Barometer shows a disparity between how privileged Canadians and the general public view businesses.

The amount of trust Canadians put in the country’s institutions is at a five-year high, but there’s a gap between the more privileged members of the population and the general population, according to the latest edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report.

The report surveyed 33,000 respondents between 25 and 64 years old across the globe, with an oversample of 6,000 members of the “informed public” – college-educated people in the top 25% of earners for their age group in their country who report significant levels of media consumption and engagement with business news. Of those, 1,150 were from Canada, 200 of which were members of the “informed public.”

Within Canada, trust in all major institutions – be they businesses, media, government or NGOs – rose after falling significantly in last year’s version of the report, with businesses being the most trusted overall. Despite this, many sectors saw single-digit losses or no change in trust. Technology remains the most trusted sector, followed by food and beverage and CPG. Telecommunications, which was one of the few sectors to see a gain over last year, was the fourth most trusted.

The greatest contributor to trust in business was its tie to economic growth, according to 61% of respondents whose trust grew, and 42% saying business contributes to the greater good. On the other hand, 61% of those who said their trust in business decreased said businesses don’t contribute to the greater good, with 46% saying they don’t contribute to them and their families leading a healthy life.

While the overall rise in trust is a good sign, the study points to the fact that trust in businesses rose by 13 points among members of the informed public, compared to five points for the general public, dubbing it a “troubling trend.” Similarly, trust in the media and government rose by 14 and 16 points, respectively, among the informed public, compared to three and six points among the general population. The study also showed that the informed public is more optimistic about prospects over the next five years than the general public.

The differences in trust and optimism could be because the informed public, who are more educated and earn more, have more to be optimistic about and have benefited from the way institutions operate, and the disparity was more pronounced in countries where the wage gap was more significant than in Canada.

Among the four institutions, Canadian business were the most trusted to keep up with the times, and the trust placed in corporate CEOs saw more growth than any other potential spokesperson, though experts, peers and employees still took the top spots, in that order. However, skepticism towards CEOs still remains, especially among the general population, with only 28% saying CEOs can relate to the common person. Only 42% could name an actual CEO, with 80% saying they wanted to know more about their personal values. Further, Canadians still believe businesses could do more to be transparent, operate ethically, treat employees well and put the needs of consumers over their own profits.

“As power shifts away from elites towards the masses – a trend we call the inversion of influence – it’s more critical than ever for business leaders to be more visible and transparent about what’s happening in their organizations,” Lisa Kimmel, president of Edelman Canada, said in a press release. “Treating employees well and being seen to contribute to the greater good are other powerful trust drivers.”

On the international stage, Canadian still ranked slightly above average when it came to trust, both when it comes to the informed public and general population. Also, companies whose headquarters are in Canada are considered among the most trustworthy globally, tied for the top spot with Sweden and Switzerland.