Trust and the movement for change - Sustainability column
Sustainability columnTrust and the movement for changeLast weekend, thousands of people around the world took to thestreets to protest against “austerity” and “corporate greed”.There were protests in Madrid, Rome, Lisbon and Athens. In London,demonstrators occupied the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city’sfinancial district. In New York, where the movement began, ‘OccupyWall Street’ protesters once more surged onto the streets.It’s clear that trust in the corporate sector has sunk to its lowest levelfor decades. For most of these protesters, Big Business has become aBig Problem.Such a loss of trust, of course, is never good news. But it does open upopportunities for companies – opportunities to do things differently,and, conceivably, to do things better.Bearing the bruntNot surprisingly, it’s the financial sector that has borne the brunt ofmost of the criticism about corporate greed. When it comes to trust,banks and insurance companies have hit rock bottom. According to thelatest survey by the US communications firm Edelman, fewer peoplenow trust banks and insurers than companies in any other sector of theeconomy.You don’t have to dig too deep to discover the reasons: bail-outs, poorcustomer service, products that have misfired, financial losses, job cuts,bonuses…
How much do you trust the following industries to do what is right? 85% 81% 80% 75% 69% 68% 70% 66% 65% 65% 63% 62% 60% 57% 54% 55% 52% 51% 50% 45% 40%Public anger is creating pressure for change – and this is ultimatelywhere opportunities for companies like AEGON will emerge.Change is already coming about in several ways: To begin with, customers are behaving differently. In the financial services industry, they’ve become more demanding and more aware of risk. They want simpler products – products they can understand, but that will also deliver the right returns. Increasingly, people also expect companies to do the right things – to manage scarce resources responsibly and to treat employees, customers and local communities with respect. And, if companies don’t, they’re more willing more than ever to blow the whistle. Change is also coming from politicians. Governments are tightening financial regulations. And in Europe and the United States, they are bringing in new, tougher consumer protection laws.
Positive changeAn extra shove, of course, has come from the global economic crisis.Current public anger probably has as much to do with unemployment,government spending cuts and slow growth as it does with bankers’bonuses.Companies like AEGON can use this pressure for positive change. Theycan use it to strengthen their systems and processes, and make thembetter. They can improve their products. They can develop new ways ofdistribution. They can become more transparent and more open tooutside influences. They can build trust again. We shouldn’t forget:customers tend to do business with companies they trust, and avoidcompanies they don’t.That’s the good news. The bad news is: all this inevitably takes time.Research shows that most people who distrust a company simply don’tbelieve what that company is telling them. Actions, in other words,speak louder than corporate promises. That was always true. But, givencurrent public anger, it’s doubly so now.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The views and opinions expressed in this document are solely those ofthe author and do not necessarily represent those of AEGON N.V. Thisdocument is for information purposes only and any reliance you placeon such information is strictly at your own risk. AEGON N.V., its affiliatesand the author cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or reliabilityof the contents of this document.