The Speed of Trust in the Age of Fraud

The Speed of Trust in the Age of Fraud

Given that our cover story is on fraud, and its likelihood in the digital age, I have been tempted to think harder about the eternal question of whom to trust and why. Or why not…should our eternal parameters for trust change going forward? Ultimately, what should guide us – human nature or the advent of digital?

Our increasingly technology-enabled world is making it easier to trick, but also to trip. On the one hand, barriers to entry are low and a technologically-savvy person can manipulate the system once for perennially fraudulent outcomes. For example, one purposefully incorrect entry becomes the basis for all future calculations. Equally, the detection of the incorrect entry can get things to collapse like a house of cards!

My friend, Robin Banerjee’s book titled ‘Who Cheats and How’ is a timely eye-opener on the dark side of corporate India. It points out that despite greater transparency and expected accountability for those in power, the incidence of financial fraud and white-collar crimes are on the rise. He asks and seeks to answer several pertinent questions: why do wealthy individuals remain greedy? What drove some of the world’s most successful corporate leaders to risk their hard-earned reputations by treading grey zones? How does individual temp­tation and power measure up against structural issues in a market-led, free enterprise world? Does the eco-system become the victim of a nexus between companies, politicians and regulators?

Like for everything else around us, there is no single answer. Of course, there are brazen and unprincipled people in the world, who sell out for personal benefit. But, equally, there are honest and good people in the world who uphold values and are committed to a purpose well beyond themselves. They would put their organisation ahead of themselves and follow a principled life, despite adverse fall-outs. But given the penalties associated with fraud, less and less people are willing to believe in simple, straightforward, well-intentioned goodness. There is no room left for an ‘error in judgement’ – it is presumed to be about mal-intent. My contention is that the biggest victim of increased fraud is ‘good intent’ and ‘trust’.

I have, personally, been hugely disappointed at the ease with which many of us agree with speculation about people’s reputations, which they have literally built brick by brick, over many years. In one swoop, we are willing to believe the worst interpretation of their intent. While I am not condoning financial misdemeanour, there is a room to revisit our view of human beings and their predominant motivation.

Fortunately, there are some, who would also rather trust. Author Stephen M R Covey, in his book titled ‘The Speed of Trust’ writes:”The ability to establish, extend and restore trust with all stakeholders is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.” He further states:”Looking beyond the common view of trust as a soft, social virtue, we must learn to see it as a critical, highly relevant, performance multiplier.”

The ‘speed of trust’ would serve everyone better. In addition to good controls, we must endeavour to create a less suspicious-ridden environment. Trust often breeds trust. This, of course, is my view.

But what do you think?

Anuradha Das Mathur, Editor, CFO India