Do retailers need to add chief trust officers?

Photo: Getty Images/Charday Penn
Nov 18, 2022

Cisco, SAP and Salesforce have all added a chief trust officer (CTrO) to their c-suite as the digital economy has elevated the importance of trust. Should retailers follow?

Some see the CTrO as a next step for the CISO (chief information security officer) role — tackling customer-facing responses to breaches, navigating third-party risk management and mitigating privacy concerns. Others see the role extending to digital trust overall, including battling online toxicity (i.e., harassment, hate speech) as well as ensuring inclusive online content, responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI), and safety and equity in virtual communities. Still others believe the CTrO should broadly cover brand reputation across key stakeholders — customers, employees, third parties and shareholders — given the increasing importance of trust.

PwC’s “2022 Consumer Intelligence Series Survey on Trust” found that 87 percent of business executives think consumers have a high level of trust in their business, but only 30 percent of consumers say they do. The survey found 71 percent of consumers are unlikely to buy if a company loses their trust. The same 71 percent of employees indicated they would leave if their employer loses their trust.

A Deloitte survey of over 260 c-suite executives taken in mid-September found 61.3 percent saying their organizations will work to improve trust levels with key stakeholders in the next year, but that only 2.7 percent have a CTrO and that 16.3 percent have a C-suite executive overseeing trust efforts. For the coming year, another 3.4 percent plan to establish a CTrO role and eight percent plan to assign a leader — C-suite or otherwise — to oversee trust.

A majority of respondents to the Deloitte survey (55 percent) have no current trust tracking in place, although nearly 19.6 percent of those respondents plan to add such measures in the next 12 months.

A survey of just over 1,000 U.S. consumers by Clarify Capital found 55 percent seeing as trustworthy, making the platform the most trusted brand across industries. Trust levels for other major retailers included Walmart, 44 percent; Target, 36 percent; and Macy’s, Albertsons and Lowe’s, all at 22 percent.

The survey wasn’t able to sum up overriding factors determining what makes a business trustworthy. Some included delivering on promises, listening and acting on feedback and treating employees well.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do retailers need a chief trust officer or to put a c-level exec in charge of trust? Should cybersecurity and data privacy be the primary focus around trust issues or do you see a broader responsibility over brand reputation?

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"I’m perplexed. Trust is a very qualitative metric, not an easy to survey digital-only metric."

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17 Comments on "Do retailers need to add chief trust officers?"

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Jeff Sward

How could trust not already be deeply embedded as part of the job for everybody in the C-suite? Sounds like a moment to fire someone rather than hire someone.

Gene Detroyer

The C-suite is getting crowded. I sense that this idea of focusing on the trust issue will inadvertently cause the creation of silos. Who will make the decision when trust involves customer awareness of the product? Who will be in charge when there is a data privacy issue? Do SEC filings now go through finance, legal, and CtrO? It all sounds like a way of finger-pointing.

Dick Seesel

Every C-suite executive — whether in charge of tech, finance, marketing or other functional areas — should have the mindset that they are providing a trustworthy product. It shouldn’t matter whether the executive is customer-facing, dealing with associate relations, or engaged with a company’s vendors. Offloading “trust” to a single executive — without defining what trust means as part of a company’s culture — is a meaningless gesture.

Mark Self

How many executives does it take to establish trust? Creating this position sounds very reactive to me. Some firm has a security breach and the next press release announces a CTrO. Between the CIO, the CTO and the CMO I would think a firm would be able to figure this out.

Katie Thomas

I’m perplexed. Trust is a very qualitative metric, not an easy to survey digital-only metric. Perhaps a chief privacy officer but let’s be thoughtful about semantics here. Cybersecurity and full-blown trust in a brand are not synonymous.

Jeff Weidauer

Another C-level officer won’t fix the problems of trust and cybersecurity. Those should be part of every current officer’s goals and a top priority at the board level. One more person in the C-suite isn’t going to get it done.

David Spear

I don’t see the need to add another acronym in the C-suite. Trust is part of the brand equity every associate in the company is striving to improve. Brand management is most responsible for this but as we all know, it’s the job of everyone in the company, because everything communicates. Sure, there are new privacy laws and policies being enacted in foreign countries and here in the U.S., but this doesn’t automatically translate into hiring another high level executive. This will result in more turf wars and silos being created, which is never good. Here’s an idea — how about better collaboration among CISOs, Chief Counsel, Chief Data Officers and CMOs?

Zel Bianco

How did we get here? Has our belief and moral compass gotten so out of whack that we now need a watchdog in the C-suite? I think we already have one, and it’s called the SEC and other organizations that are supposed to be handling this. I would say that senior leadership should be held accountable for their actions, but a Trust Officer may not be the way to go.

Paula Rosenblum

Okay, I have absolutely NO idea what this is talking about. We want to install a Chief Trust Officer when we have no idea what makes a business trustworthy?

Guess what — if you’re not trustworthy, your customers will let you know quite quickly. This may be more appropriate for pure tech companies than it is for retailers.

Hey — I’ve got a noble idea. You want to feel trustworthy? Stop re-targeting me. Stop selling or renting my name.

What was it Lao Tzu said? So many translations of Chapter 38 in the Tao:
“When the Great Tao falls into disuse, benevolence and righteousness come into vogue. When shrewdness and sagacity appear, great hypocrisy prevails. It is when the bonds of kinship are out of joint that filial piety and paternal affection begin. It is when the State is in a ferment of revolution that loyal patriots arise.”

Just do the right thing, for goodness sake.

Ryan Mathews

First of all trust is not something a brand or company can promise or “offer.” It is something that, over time, customers develop for a company/brand based on performance. Second, what’s next, a CHO (Corporate Honesty Officer)? Telling people you have a Trust Executive is telling them that, up to now, you haven’t been trustworthy. And while I’m at it, shouldn’t cybersecurity and privacy concerns already be Job One for digital companies? As far as brand reputation, companies can try to control it but that too is determined by the market, not marketers. A brand is a promise and everything associated with that brand is an artifact that either reinforces or repudiates that promise. Trust is all about keeping your promises.

Brian Cluster

Another C-level exec is not the answer. The Chief Trust Officer and the Chief Purpose Officer roles may not be needed – trust and purpose are the values of an organization that does business correctly. Data privacy, data security, and data quality/transparency are key consumer concerns now and should be part of the existing operational plans and plans for any retailer.

Matthew Pavich

It seems to me that any company that needs a Chief Trust Officer may have already missed the boat. Trust is a cultural thing that should be embedded throughout an entire organization and embodied to its highest degree by all senior leaders. The best organizations should endeavor to be trustworthy to all internal and external parties and exhibit transparency in all facets of business. While it is true that cybersecurity and data privacy are important – they are merely qualifiers that shouldn’t ever cause concerns. True trust comes from hiring the right people, establishing the right culture and ensuring that every interaction with customers is done ethically and honestly. Winning companies interact in a way that provides clarity and confidence to end users and consumers which ultimately leads to more satisfaction and higher loyalty.

Shep Hyken

Trust is a big part of creating customer loyalty. If a customer trusts that the company won’t abuse their privacy and gives them a consistent stellar customer experience, trust levels are high. People like doing business with companies (and people) they know, like, and trust. The trust part of that is the hardest to earn. It takes time but, once the company earns it, it pays off with repeat business and loyalty.

Craig Sundstrom

Perhaps the thought is it will make people feel more comfortable (because it will demonstrate how important the issue is). That may be true for some, but personally it gives me the impression a company is into virtue signaling and confuses ends with means. It sounds like the corporate equivalent of “there ought to be a law.” In short, I vote “no.”

Brad Halverson

As much as some retailers could use a Chief Trust Officer to build customer trust, having such a role suggests the CEO and the C-team either doesn’t live out existing Leadership Principles and Core Values, doesn’t have any, or it’s not woven into the business. It’s up to collective leadership to ensure everyone in the company ultimately owns this so customers see real examples to trust and embrace the brand.

Rachelle King

All companies should monitor trust levels, from both consumers and employees–even from ley partners. This is a necessary and foundational act of responsible business. It’s not a new or novel idea.

However, throwing the entire corporate responsibility of trust onto a trust officer is as effective as throwing the entire corporate responsibility of diversity, equity and inclusion onto a DEI officer. Very few of these “hero” roles have teams reporting into them to take or lead any meaningful action.

Further if the C-suite needs policing then you probably need a new C-suite. Officers of companies are bound by ethics and integrity in their actions on behalf of the company. If building trust requires supervision, then something is wrong.

Companies should agree on what matters most on the spectrum of trust, create a corporate plan to hit those goals and hold their C-suite accountable. Companies should stop creating roles because something needs to be done but nobody really intends to do it. If the C-suite is not delivering results, that’s why Boards exist; not a trust officer.

Tony Walker

In short, no. Retailers need authentic leadership that values integrity at all levels of operation, which creates a culture of trust for employees and customers. Adding a “C-Suite” role seems token and reactive toward the rising number of data security breaches as companies look to leverage more and more consumer information.

Hiring a Chief Trust Officer might signal to customers that there are already reasons the company shouldn’t be trusted! Not clear how the responsibility of governance would shift away from existing executive positions.

"I’m perplexed. Trust is a very qualitative metric, not an easy to survey digital-only metric."

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