Break stakeholders' trust at your own risk

Monday, 01 March 2021


    Rio Tinto and AMP have proven that the corporate distrust caused by moral blindness is an increasingly important risk factor in the nation’s boardrooms. Ignore it at your peril, directors, writes Michele Levine.

    The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry laid bare the consequences of moral blindness — and distrust in financial services companies soared. Data released in the most recent Roy Morgan Risk Monitor shows that moral blindness and its resultant distrust remains alive and active.

    The report shows that since the Royal Commission, AMP, for instance, has moved from having virtually no distrust to being one of the most distrusted brands in Australia — and its share price has plummeted by more than 70 per cent.

    The Risk Monitor also highlights the impact of Rio Tinto’s decision to destroy the 46,000-year-old Juukan Indigenous heritage site, with the mining company leaping into the top 10 of Australia’s most distrusted brands — even more distrusted than Adani. Senior AMP executives, including the CEO, have been forced to quit. In the top 10 of most-distrusted brands, AMP ranks number five, Rio Tinto, four.

    The most-trusted list, on the other hand, is dominated by retail brands, perhaps unsurprisingly given their role during the health crisis. Woolworths and Coles have jumped into the top two spots on the top 10 most trusted brands in the country. While Bunnings and ALDI have dropped to third and fourth, they are still highly trusted by Australians. Given our reliance on technology during the lockdowns, it is also unsurprising that Apple and Microsoft have, for the first time, entered the top 10 most trusted list.

    So, what does this data tell us about 2021? Moral blindness remains a significant risk factor in the nation’s boardrooms because its attendant distrust is the toxic element in brand equity: trust is a brand equity asset; distrust is a brand equity liability.

    To fully recognise this, it’s important to understand distrust is not an uncertainty about whether to trust — or even a passive absence of trust. It is something separate, something darker and much more damaging — a hostile state of suspicion. Just look at Rio Tinto with its Juukan fallout, or AMP following the banking Royal Commission findings. Distrust should be on the risk register of every publicly listed company in Australia.

    Michele Levine is CEO of Roy Morgan Research.

    Most trusted brands

    1. Woolworths
    2. Coles
    3. Bunnings
    4. Aldi
    5. Qantas
    6. Apple (new to top 10)
    7. Kmart
    8. ABC
    9. Microsoft (new to top 10)
    10. Myer (new to top 10)

    Most distrusted brands

    1. Facebook
    2. Telstra (new to top 10)
    3. Amazon
    4. NewsCorp/News Ltd
    5. AMP
    6. Rio Tinto (new to top 10)
    7. Huawei (new to top 10)
    8. Google
    9. BP (new to top 10)
    10. Westpac

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