Ipsos Corporate Reputation

The link between trust, reputation and benefit of the doubt

BUILDING TRUST BUILDS REPUTATION. A GOOD REPUTATION BUILDS BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, AND ENSURES YOUR VOICE IS HEARD IN A CRISIS.

Trust matters. When you trust someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt. If that person gets in trouble, you will hear their side of the story before jumping to conclusions.

Companies seek to build the same benefit of the doubt among their stakeholders. Without a strong reputation, companies risk not having a receptive audience for their story when they need one the most.

Globally, people are generally willing to give companies the benefit of the doubt (24% definitely and 48% probably). This willingness to give the benefit of the doubt is tightly linked to overall trust.

Among people who trust a company a great deal, more than half (59%) say they would definitely give that company the benefit of the doubt in a crisis. Among people who are feel neutral toward a company, that percentage shrinks to just 10%.

How benefit of the doubt varies by industry

The imperative to build a strong reputation to get the benefit of the doubt is greatest in high risk sectors. However, EVERY company has risk and can obtain a competitive advantage by building a reputation that they can draw on in times of trouble.

At the industry level, technology companies are much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than others. Highly regulated industries are viewed more skeptically.

Globally, technology and automotive companies have the strongest reputations and consequently the strongest benefit of the doubt.

Benefit of the doubt and trust are highly correlated. When companies build trust, they are building up benefit of the doubt.

The link between trust and benefit of the doubt are most tightly related at the ends of the spectrum - companies with the best reputation get the most benefit of the doubt, and least trusted companies generate very little benefit of the doubt. Companies in the middle (trust-wise), have more variance when it comes to getting the benefit of the doubt.

Airlines, telecommunications, and oil and gas companies have the greatest challenges.

How benefit of the doubt varies by region

Overall, Europeans are more skeptical of companies, while Latin Americans are more likely to give companies the benefit of the doubt.

Generally, a majority of people in every region say they would “probably” give companies the benefit of the doubt during times of crisis. This likelihood to extend the benefit of the doubt is why it is so important for companies to make sure they react appropriately to crises. An over-reaction due to a few hard-core skeptics can cause more harm than good. Companies need to remember that they generally have the benefit of the doubt and should therefore be forthcoming, rather than defensive.

Skeptical Europeans are a tougher audience than people from other parts of the world.

The impact of regulation on trust and benefit of the doubt

Oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications companies face the greatest amount of regulatory risk, and have the lowest trust and benefit of the doubt scores. While risk is also high for insurance and banking, there is also some evidence of people feeling these industries are over-regulated.

The desire for regulation is highest in Europe and North America, and lowest in APAC.

Methodology: The latest wave of the Ipsos Global Reputation Monitor, conducted in September 2017, measured attitudes of more than 23,000 consumers from 31 countries toward 66 companies across nine industries.

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It’s the environment, stupid!

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS ARE NO LONGER JUST PRESSING ETHICAL ISSUES, BUT QUESTIONS OF FINANCIAL PRUDENCE. OVER HALF OF BRITISH CONSUMERS FEEL WE ARE EXPERIENCING A CLIMATE CRISIS, AND OVER ONE THIRD SAY THEY WOULD SWITCH OR BOYCOTT A FINANCIAL ORGANISATION IF ITS INVESTMENTS HAVE A DETRIMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. DESPITE BIG CONCERNS AROUND COVID-19, THE ENVIRONMENT REMAINS A PRIORITY FOR THE PUBLIC, AND BUSINESSES WILL BE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE THE TRANSITION TO A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY IN THE POST-CRISIS PERIOD.

Whilst it doesn’t roll off the tongue with as much zest, James Carville’s ‘the economy, stupid’ slogan is aptly modified for Larry Fink’s announcement earlier this year that BlackRock would base future investments with environmental sustainability as a central goal… ‘It’s the environment, stupid!’. If anyone could ‘wake up’ the market to the tipping point which has now been reached around the environment, it is the Chief Executive of the world’s largest asset management firm. “Awareness is rapidly changing” wrote Mr Fink in the company’s annual letter, “and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”. This has been compounded more recently, with the announcement that the UK’s biggest pension fund, the government-backed National Employment Savings Trust (Nest), will begin divesting from fossil fuels, and BlackRock “launching a selection of ESG multi-asset ETFs, to provide investors with a cost-efficient, transparent and sustainable way to invest”.

Data from Ipsos’s 2020 Sustainable Business Monitor survey amongst the British public echoes these sentiments. With a majority of the public now feeling we are dealing with a climate crisis, it appears that cash may no longer be king in investments. Only 21% now claim to care more about financial returns on investments than on whether the financial provider is ethical in how it invests money. This is compared to 28% of the public who prioritise ethics over financial returns and 26% who feel they should be given equal footing. Even allowing for the possibility that consumers may not be quite so ethical when faced with this trade-off in reality, it is clear that there has been a change in the drivers of investment decision making.

Returns on investment or ethical considerations?
Views on Climate Change

The growing imperative for investors to prioritise companies with a good sustainability track record is brought into sharper focus when looking more closely at the attitudes of millennials. Findings from the Ipsos Sustainable Business Monitor show that 54% of 18-34 year olds would be concerned about investments in Oil and Gas, compared to 47% for the UK public overall. This isn’t limited to the UK either; sustainable investing interest among US millennial investors jumped from 84% in 2015 to 95% in 2019, according to Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing.

Which sectors concern the public regarding investments?

So, what does this all mean? Unsurprisingly, that Fink is right.

Over one third of those asked said that investment in projects or companies that have a detrimental environmental impact would lead them to ‘switch from’, ‘stop using’, or ‘boycott’ a financial organisation. Indeed, sustainable investing is ranked alongside executive remuneration – an issue that has a long track record of being a strong driver of negative opinion for the finance sector.

Switching / Boycotting financial organisations

This sentiment is further reflected at a global level when looking at Ipsos data from the recent Earth Day 2020 report, highlighting that even when set against the crisis situation that COVID-19 has presented, concerns around the environment remain steadfast. Over 7 in 10 people around the world agree that climate change is as serious as the pandemic, whilst 65% agree that in the economic recovery from COVID-19, it’s important that government actions prioritise climate change.

Seriousness of climate change in comparison to COVID-19
Support for a 'green' economic recorvery from COVID-19

Recognising the growing commercial opportunity facing the sector, and the long-term risk of investing in environmentally unfriendly industries, Fink notes that “as a fiduciary, our responsibility is to help clients navigate this transition [the reallocation of capital]. Our investment conviction is that sustainability and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors”.

But where does this leave industries which have been traditionally harmful to the environment, such as the oil and gas industry, for a long time the bedrock of investment portfolios and still an essential service despite growing environmental concern?

In light of BlackRock’s position, The Economist wrote: “[t]o cynics, all the climate-friendly noises amount to little in practice, since few people are ready to make carbon-cutting sacrifices that would force oil firms’ hands. But noises are sometimes followed by action. Should they be this time, the 2020s may be do-or-die for the oil industry”.

It isn’t a case of ‘adapt tomorrow or die’ for fossil fuel companies however, and Fink makes this clear, forecasting “the energy transition will still take decades”. Citing fairness and justice, “we cannot leave behind parts of society, or entire countries in developing markets, as we pursue the path to a low-carbon world”. The demand for energy will continue whilst technology works to bring cost-effective replacements to conventional fuel sources, but it is incumbent on the sector to aggressively pursue cleaner energy; not only from an ethical perspective, but also in order to remain an attractive investment. The same is also true for a number of other sectors which have for a long time been harmful to the environment, and must adapt with the new way of sustainable investing.

Companies from within the fossil fuel and investment sectors which are leading the transition to a more sustainable future are on the right path, reinforced by public support. This should not be derailed. Communicators in these sectors therefore have the opportunity to maintain messaging around this transition, but with fairness in mind, should also remain sensitive to the societies whose energy programs are not as developed as some of the leading world economies. The transition to sustainable investing will need a collective effort – innovation from industry, reallocation of risk, government support and sustained societal scrutiny, but in adopting Fink’s position, it should be worthwhile effort for investors, producers, and consumers, from both an environmental and a financial perspective.

Contact: Alex Russell - Email | LinkedIn

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