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CertRM Series: The trust equation - credibility and reliability without self-orientation

11 October, 2017Stuart Rollason

Relationship managers who succeed in corporate, commercial and consumer banking are typically individuals who have built up relationships of trust with their customers. This is increasingly difficult in an environment where banks are less trusted than ever before.

It will take a generation before banks are once more trusted by the British public, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England said in remarks at the Banking Standards Board panel – Worthy of trust? Law, ethics and culture in banking earlier this year. The Banking Standards Board was set up to improve the behaviour of bankers and banks.

Sir Gerry Grimstone, Barclays deputy chairman speaking as the Banking Standards Board released their annual report this year said: “the drumbeat of fines will go on for another couple of years” (Wallace, 2016). Banks have received fines in the billions for gross misconduct involving sanctions breaches and money laundering over the past 10 years. Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, the Royal Bank of Scotland Rabobank and UBS and even the British Bankers Association are being sued by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over fraudulent misrepresentation in the Libor rate-setting process (FT, 2017). You would have recently read of the irrelevance of Libor on another Insights blog.

The global financial crisis of 2007-08 which revealed the poor behaviour of many bankers epitomised in the development of products such as asset-backed securities resulted in the general public completely losing their trust in the financial services sector. Taxpayers were called upon to bail out systemically important banks which were deemed ‘too big to fail’. Now let’s clarify the term for those who don’t understand it. Too big to fail doesn’t mean that they are too ‘good’ to fail in any way or that they have a track record of excellence or that they are victims of some quirk in free market economics. Banks which are too big to fail can get away with anything, even gross misbehaviour as their failure would be catastrophic for the wider economy.


Relevance in the face of data driven customer experience

Losing their trust in these systemically important banks, consumers and executives who run businesses are turning to technology for their banking needs. Firms offering web-based financial services now serve their customers better by listening to them through the vast array of customer data which is collated and synthesized utilising software programs driven by artificial intelligence. Powerful algorithms are integrating data processes ensuring higher levels of efficiency and better customer experiences.

Challenger banks, with an asset base a fraction of that of systemically important banks are also making inroads in the UK financial services sector.  Harnessing user-friendly digital interfaces they have, in many cases, eliminated the branch network.

Trust in banks and their executives remains relevant

In such an economic environment how can banks and the executives who represent them regain the trust of their customers? Charles Green’s tried and tested formula, the trust equation, first explored in his 2000 book, The Trusted Advisor, has been used by relationship managers at banks and others working in financial services for years since (Trusted Advisor LLC, no date). It remains relevant in the current economic environment described above.

The equation demonstrates how the level of trust a customer has in their financial advisors is based on a simple equation  - the sum of the following three variables: credibility, reliability and intimacy divided by one variable: self-orientation. 

So what makes up the trust equation?

Credibility refers to the believability of the words said by the person concerned. This quality is undeniably interlinked with the next: reliability, which in turn, refers to delivering the product or service promised on a consistent basis. Intimacy refers to the security, rapport, familiarity and understanding which a person will have built up in a relationship with another person.  Self-orientation, obviously, needs no explanation and any strategies a bank or relationship manager may have to ensure a customer experience is credible and reliable will immediately lose that very credibility the minute greed, selfishness and the sheer profitability of the bank or executive concerned takes over. Customer centricity, the reverse of the profit motive and self-orientation, is obviously vital.

If the statement by the governor of the Bank of England at the Banking Standards Board meeting mentioned above is to be believed, it will be an uphill task for individual relationship managers to truly demonstrate the positive qualities on the numerator. Senior executives at the banks which relationship managers represent will have to demonstrate that the behaviour represented in the denominator is well and truly replaced with customer centricity. 

How does trust sit within the skillset

Our course in relationship management explores the technical principles of key account management and business plan analysis; it also looks at how relationship managers match the many, varied and sometimes complex products which a bank offers to customer needs.  The numerous management models available which help relationship managers analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their clients’ businesses are also extensively covered as are the tools to analyse the political and economic landscape in which these clients operate in.

Equally importantly though, our course will guide you through the softer skills necessary to develop the attributes and qualities of a trusted financial professional as well as the understanding of true customer centricity and what this entails.


Binham, C. and Thompson, B. (2017) FDIC sues Barclays, RBS and other banks over Libor FT.com [online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/46d51cbe-8360-11e7-a4ce-15b2513cb3ff [Accessed: 17 August 2017].

Carney, M. (2017) Remarks at the Banking Standards Board panel ‘Worthy of trust? Law, ethics and culture in banking’ [pdf]. Available at: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/speeches/2017/speech970.pdf [Accessed: 14 September 2017].

McHugh (2017) The future of Libor: The end is nigh [online]. Available at: https://www.libf.ac.uk/news-and-insights/insights/detail/2017/08/09/the-future-of-libor-the-end-is-nigh [Accessed: 15 September 2017].

Trusted Advisor Associates LLC (no date) Understanding the trust equation [online]. Available at: http://trustedadvisor.com/why-trust-matters/understanding-trust/understanding-the-trust-equation [Accessed: 7 July 2017].

Wallace, T. (2016) HSBC boss: customers won’t trust banks for a generation [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/03/08/hsbc-boss-customers-wont-trust-banks-for-a-generation/ [Accessed: 14 September 2017].

To find out more about our Certificate in Relationship Management qualification, click here.