Why do we trust stangers, but not our bank?

03 Nov 2016 | Research & Business Knowledge

Rachel Botsman has recently given a TED talk about the changing nature of trust which I thought was fascinating and may be of interest to some fellow ICGers. 

She argues that new technology is enabling us to trust new ideas and people (examples include Airbnb, Bitcoin, Tinder) yet trust in established institutions is collapsing.  Rachel talks about the trust leap – something that happens when we take a risk to do something new or different.  She explains that the force that makes us take that final step is trust.

Rachel defines trust quite differently to anything I have ever heard before.  Rather than using the traditional and rational definitions of trust, she defines it as ‘a confident relationship to the unknown’ and believes that this explains why it helps us cope with uncertainty and place our faith in strangers. 

Initially trying anything new like this feels weird, but it is surprising how quickly it normalises – the first person to use an ATM must have felt very apprehensive, but we couldn’t live without them now!  So the ability to trust in new ideas enables change and innovation.

When we look at new technology, there is a common pattern that people follow with trust – the ‘trust stack’;

  • Is the underlying idea worth trying? (i.e. selling unwanted goods on an auction site)
  • Do you have confidence that the platform will help if something goes wrong (in the case of ebay, what protections and guarantees are in place)?
  • Is the other person you are dealing with trustworthy (do they have good buyer/seller feedback)?

Listening to her talk I felt that this has real relevance for researching both brands and product development.  The trust stack works both ways – it can be build up (as people have good experiences) and it can be eroded and at worst broken even for the largest and most established brands.  The way consumers trust the companies and people that they interact with is changing, driven by fast moving technology, and we need to understand this in order to research it.

Rachel argues that we are moving from an age of institutional trust in the 20th century to a world of ‘distributed’ trust which is more appropriate for the digital age.  Trust is no longer top down and linear – it is becoming inverted and is accountability based and technology will continue to drive this forward.  As researchers, we need to understand the new era of trust so that we can help our clients design brands, systems and products that mirror the required transparency, inclusiveness and accountability.

View Rachel’s full talk here.