Trust in others and in our institutions is an essential part of maintaining a just and democratic society. However, according to recent research, trust in others and confidence in societal institutions are at their lowest point in over three decades.

Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and colleagues W. Keith Campbell and Nathan Carter, of the University of Georgia, found that Americans are less likely to say they can trust others. For example, they reported that while 46 percent of adult Americans agreed that “most people can be trusted” in 1972-1974, only 33 percent agreed in 2010-2012.

Their data also indicated that the decline in trust is reflected in our institutions such as government, the press, religious organizations, schools, and large corporations with one exception, the military.

For those of us in business, particularly financial services, trust is a crucial element. In earlier times, the Dutch said it best, “Trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback”.

There’s an updated version of this saying which describes the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on public confidence. The recently published Eighth Edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes the words of Mark Carney, a Canadian running the Bank of England, “Trust arrives on foot but leaves in a Ferrari…the Ferrari screeched out of the parking lot in 2008.”

Generalizations aside, just what is the state of trust in business in general and financial services in specific and how can it be improved?

We can look to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer which provides insight from their survey of 33,000 people in 27 markets around the world. It should come as no surprise that the financial service industry is the least trusted of all industries with technology being the most trusted.

The Edelman research shows 16 specific attributes which build trust. The top five are grouped in order of importance, as follows:

  1. Engagement
  2. Integrity
  3. Products and Services
  4. Purpose
  5. Operations

While all of what is included in this list is important, in the final analysis, trust is not about metrics, or performance, or targets. Trust is about relationships. Dan Sullivan, whose Strategic Coach Program works with business owners and entrepreneurs, says that in a world of unreliable people, there are four key habits to make one referable or trust worthy:

  1. Show up on time.
  2. Do what you say.
  3. Finish what you start.
  4. Say please and thank you.

Maybe it’s that basic.