Trust in business leaders down as expectations grow

Canadians expect CEOs to speak out on social issues, but don't trust their ability to address challenges, Edelman finds.

This year’s Canadian edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer, released Tuesday, shows that Canadians’ trust in business, government, media and NGOs is down, while the “trust gap” between the informed public and mass population has narrowed slightly since last year.

The report, now in its twentieth year, is based on an online survey of more than 34,000 respondents, including 1,500 Canadians. It tracks Canadians’ trust across the four sectors, and attempts to identify the factors driving trust among the population.

Canadians’ trust in institutions has fallen across the board. The report notes that respondents did not qualify any one institution – NGOs, government, media or business – to be both “competent” and “ethical.” While the business sector is viewed as the most competent of the four types of organizations, it is also the second-most unethical, behind government. Meanwhile, Edelman notes that organizations must generally have a combination of both attributes in order to earn the public’s trust.

Last year, Edelman found that trust among the informed public reached an all-time high of 74%, representing a 20 point gap between that group and the mass population, at 54%. In 2020, the system remains polizared, according to Edelman, though the gap has narrowed to 16 points, as trust among both groups dipped to 67% and 51%, respectively.

A similar trust gap between the groups with respect to every type of institution, although the gap was largest with respect to trust in NGOs (a 22 point gap) and the government (15 point gap). Overall, 64% of the informed public trusts in business, while only 51% of the mass population does, representing a gap of 13 points between the groups.

IThe survey describes the informed public as being college educated and highly engaged with the news. However, it also represents an economic disparity: the informed public represents those within the top quarter of household income for their age bracket.

Canadians’ trust has declined across every business sector, from transportation to entertainment. The biggest declines were in CPG (-11), telecommunications (-10), technology, financial services and fashion (all -8). And Canadians appear worried about technology, believing that it is evolving too quickly (62%), that the government does not understand emerging technologies enough to regulate them effectively (65%), or that tech will make it impossible for them if what they see and hear is real (66%).

While only 42% of Canadians trust CEOs – the same percentage as those who trust in government leaders – 80% of them expect chief executives to lead on change in 2020, up from 68% in 2018. Canadians expect CEOs to speak out on a number of issues, the most important being training for jobs of the future (80%), ethical use of tech (75%), automation’s impact on jobs and income inequality (both 74%).

“The characteristics that made for a trusted institution in the past are not the ones that make a trusted institution today,” said Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of Edelman Canada, in a release. “Canadians want leaders of institutions to look beyond shareholders to consider stakeholders like employees. Ultimately, the battle for trust hinges on integrity, dependability and purpose. Institutions must demonstrate an ability not only to perform competently but also to do so ethically, by taking concrete action to tackle the right issues, in the right way.”