For the last 20 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has studied trust in Government, Media, NGOs and Businesses. We ask a simple question: How much do you trust each institution to do what is right? This year, we dug deeper and analysed how people rated both the competence and ethics of each institution. Our research shows that these are the two factors that drive trust in institutions: Trust must be built through both competence and ethics.  Globally, no institution is seen as both, and this finding holds true in the UK also.

NGOs and Business have comparable trust equity in the UK (48 percent and 47 percent respectively). But for very different reasons. NGOs are the closest to being seen as ethical, but they’re not viewed as competent. Conversely, Business is the only institution seen as competent, but is not seen as ethical. Competence alone is not enough to create trust in business. 

Data from the Edelman Trust Management suite of analytics and consulting solutions - designed to help companies measure and manage their trust equity - confirms that competence alone is not enough to earn the benefits of a trust advantage. More than 80 percent of companies analysed earn higher scores for competence than the other dimensions of trust. Competence only drives a fifth of a business’s trust capital. The real differentiation and competitive advantage comes from the ethics related trust dimensions, such as integrity or purpose. Want to stand out? Drive business success? This is where to focus. 

The Edelman Trust Management data shows that the proportion of stakeholders who ‘don’t know enough’ to judge a company’s ethics is significantly higher than those who don’t know enough to judge a company’s competence. This makes sense: companies have traditionally placed an emphasis on communicating their product quality, performance, or competence more so than their commitment to ethics and integrity, or their purpose and vision for the future. But the rising expectation of stakeholders create a tension. People expect the brands they buy to reflect their values and beliefs. Employees want their jobs to give them a sense of purpose. Investors are increasingly focused on sustainability and other ethical commitments as a sign of a company’s long-term operational health and success.  

Business is already recognised for its ability to get things done. But to earn trust, companies must make sure that they are acting ethically, and doing what is right.  For today’s stakeholders, it’s not enough to just be good at what you do. Building trust through ethics is key.