Execs don't trust their own companies with private information

2006

Even as we are all being asked to trust a growing army of companies and official bodies with private or sensitive information. Yet a new international survey has found that almost a third of senior executives do not trust their own companies to handle this type of information.

The disturbing finding emerges from a from a survey of more than 1,700 senior-level corporate and technology leaders in the USA and UK looking at the importance, impact and influence of trust, privacy and security within the corporate world.

Conducted by Unisys in partnership with the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organisation, the study also found that despite a growing awareness of risk management and security issues in the corporate world, more than a third of the companies polled do not task senior leaders with protecting the trust that customers, investors and even their own employees have placed in those companies.

And not only do a third of executives not trust their own companies, the same proportion are either unsure or don't think that most of their business partners consider them to be trustworthy.

"It concerns me to see the overall lack of preparedness among business leaders to monitor and protect the trust their companies have with customers, vendors and even employees, especially given how devastating a breach of trust is to a company's reputation and bottom line," said Mike Gibbons, vice president and general manager of enterprise security at Unisys.

"Of equal concern is the disconnect between business and IT executives over how to build a trusted organisation — trust must be the cornerstone of every risk management plan.

The first phase of the research polled CEOs and other senior business executives, as well as senior IT executives at leading U.S. and U.K. companies, and found a clear disconnect between the views of business leaders and technology leaders on the factors that build and erode trust.

IT leaders placed a much stronger emphasis on protecting privacy and IT security, while business leaders focused on more financial-oriented measures.

Business leaders placed value on risk management and good corporate governance practices to build trust much more than did IT leaders. IT leaders, meanwhile, viewed positive media coverage, IP protection and responsible marketing practices as building trust much more than did business leaders.

They also believed that inadequate intellectual property protection, weak privacy and undependable IT erodes trust much more than do business leaders.

Despite a recent run of poor publicity and security scares, the retail banking sector emerged as the most trusted in both the United States and the United Kingdom. But beyond this, the survey found distinct differences in attitudes on both sideas of the Atlantic.

Health care surfaced as among the most trusted industries in the U.S, yet – possibly as a result of the high-profile and drawn-out failure of NHS computer and database systems- is among the least trusted in the UK.

Less explicably, government emerged as highly trusted in the UK and one of the least trusted sectors in the U.S.

Least trusted in the U.S. were the insurance, telecomm and entertainment and media sectors. In the UK, the entertainment and media, health care and retail sectors brought up the rear.

Factors that erode trust are things like unethical business practices, customer dissatisfaction, lack of respect for employees and customers and poor leadership.

"Trust is an intangible asset that is often overlooked until it's too late," said Larry Ponemon, Ponemon Institute chairman.

"Many companies devote tremendous dollars and resources to increasing market value, but as our research proves, in order to build trust among customers, employees and investors, they may be focused on the wrong factors, or ignoring the right ones altogether."

The research underscores that while more quantifiable factors such as compliance and financial performance tend to get the attention of boards and their leaders, "softer" factors that build trust — how a company treats customers or motivates employees — need equal attention.