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BLOG: Trust in the dust?

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18/07/2012
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” So spoke the children’s author George Macdonald.
BLOG: Trust in the dust?

Indeed, given the prominence and importance of trust in every story we hear or read from childhood to adulthood, you might assume we cherish it above all else.

Sadly in banking and the wider financial services industry this has not been the case. From recent charges of money laundering, miss-selling Payment Protection Insurance, Liborgate, to outrageous pension charges, you’d be forgiven for thinking Western capitalism was in something of a meltdown.

As a nation, we have become collectively richer over the last few hundred years so it was inevitable that the financial services industry should play an increasingly important role in our daily lives.

But with privilege comes responsibility and these breaches of trust, felt so acutely by so many, will not be easily assuaged.

There is good reason for this. Trust has played a defining role throughout human history.

From our beginnings as tree dwelling mammals, co-operation and trust have underpinned our success as a species. You cannot efficiently harvest trees that are bearing fruit at different rates, at different times, across a wide area without co-operation and trust.

In their book, the New Penguin History of the World, J.M Roberts and ODD Arne Westad, note that our development from Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens was built upon our ability to co-operate and trust one another. Advances in communication (and much later language) enabled us to move from a predominantly vegetative diet to hunting big game.

Our ability to pool resources, experience, practice and ideas to everyone’s benefit means we value trust above anything else in our relationships.

Trust continues to play a central role in human evolution. It is true that people who are related collaborate on the basis of nepotism and that it takes immense provocation for someone to turn on a relative with whom they share a lot of genes.

But trust allows unrelated individuals to collaborate and benefit by monitoring who does what and punishing cheats.

With trust so hard wired into our being, its small wonder Financial Services is having a hard time justifying some of its behaviour. If, as some maintain, trust is like a mirror then it can be fixed but we will always see the cracks in it.

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