THE BLOG
10/11/2013 01:48 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2013

WTF -- Why Trust Is Fleeting

A value that we have been reared to respect, to imbue, to foster is that of "trust." Webster defines "trust" as "an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something." But seemingly, this esteemed value continues to be amorphous in areas it is truly expected, but more importantly, desperately and poignantly needed.

In the U.S., trust has dissipated from the most fundamental elements of our societal construct -- the federal government and the financial services industry. According to the PEW Research Center, less than a quarter of Americans say they can trust the government always or most of the time. Via GALLUP, we witness frustration with ineffectiveness and partisanship, and focus on internal squabbles rather than battling for the average people. And then, the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, while echoing the conclusion of PEW with respect to government officials, reflected that banking is considered the least trustful industry.

Trust seems to have become an active rather than passive term. These reviews infer that lack of trust was born not from apprehension about what an institution might do to you, but rather, that it isn't doing anything for you.

Trust is based on confidence. Confidence is predicated on experience and execution, so we must surmise that there is some critical failure of execution on the part of our institutions, the government and our banks, as the basis for the current sentiment. Institutional trust has become seemingly asymmetric with stated priorities, whether the handling of Syria, IRS scandal, NSA privacy, or the Benghazi debacle? Or what about the allocation of resources between domestic needs vs. continued US hegemonic activities? And then the management of the financial crisis? Are we experiencing misguided policy or really incompetent execution? Credibility is the issue. It's not just the basic brand of institutional sophistry, but rather the demonstration of success in initiatives that were targeted beforehand. I would submit that if the goods as stated were delivered, the tenor of trust would be shifted.

In 2007, Professor Luke Keele of Ohio State University scribed an essay on Social Capital and the Dynamics of Trust in Government. Social capital refers to how the public engages in civic life and the societal reciprocity. If investing into the social construct yields limited or no tangible return, the public disengages and the trust in governing institutions wanes. Without trust, leaders are challenged in rallying the people for the common good, effecting policies, winning mindshare or being able to direct resources where they deems fit. The "benefit of the doubt" that brings people towards consensus through cooperation, collaboration and compromise is obliterated. Trust, simply, lays the foundation for success in leadership. It is imperative to have trust between the leadership and the lead.

Shepherding the economy is a fundamental component of our institutional trust, whether governmentally or within the banking industry. Has the government demonstrated the ability to manage the fiscal and monetary affairs of the nation or has the banking industry being responsible to those that it serves, and, while they both have a responsibility to do it right, have they actually done it right? Simply, is our economy moving in the right direction? Do we as a people believe that right decisions are being made and further, will those decisions successfully be executed upon and manifest the benefits espoused by our leaders?

As stewards of our financial system, the banks have not comported themselves to the most important of their own Five "C's of Credit" -- Character. What can one say when discussing banks and elements of bailouts, conflicts of interest, mortgage crisis and excessive compensation are the attributions? The most basic tenet of banking is "trust," in the depositing and lending of money. This term and its qualitative traits have been squandered in an industry historically defined by such a term.

To our public officials, and our banking executives, pay heed. Referencing a quotation spawned many years ago, "Trust cannot be purchased, learned or acquired. It has to be earned." I believe it is time to start earning it.