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Research Insight

Trust in Singapore Holds Steady

Majority of Respondents Uncertain if System is Working and Expect Business and NGOs To Do More

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For the second year running among the informed publics, Singapore is the fifth most Trusted nation as measured by the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Index, although the nation drops one point. India and China continue to maintain their lead over Singapore in the Index.

However among the mass population, Singapore slips 3 points and moves from the Trusters category to the Neutrals category for the first time. The most significant declines were trust in government (69 percent and 5-point drop) and media in general (54 percent and 6-point drop).

Business and non-government organizations (NGO) among both the general and informed publics maintained some positive traction with only average of 2-point declines.

Reviewing each institution and its leaders against external forces that might hinder trust building, there are five broad considerations for 2017 and beyond:

1. Trust in Institutions: Not A Complete Loss of Faith in the System Yet

For the first time, we analyzed people’s beliefs in the system including a sense of justice (e.g., whether there is a bias in favor of elites), hope (e.g., hard work will be rewarded, children will have a better life, country moving in the right direction), confidence in current leaders, and whether there are forceful reformers to bring change.

Overall, compared to global averages of more than 50 percent, a smaller percentage of respondents in Singapore believe the system is failing (30 percent) with the majority being uncertain (43 percent).

However Singapore is not immune to populism. The top three issues concerning Singapore respondents are immigration (64 percent), globalization (59 percent) and pace of innovation (57 percent). These are underpinned by a protectionism or nationalist mindset. 71 percent of Singapore respondents believe there is a need to prioritize the interests of the country over the rest of the world. Singapore respondents worry about losing their jobs due to immigrants who will work for less for the same job (69 percent) and cheaper foreign competitors driving local companies out of business (67 percent).

There is a communication need here to over index on uncertainties like domestic policy responses, inclusiveness, discourage race segregation and ensuring “no child left behind” – even in Singapore’s advanced economy. Overwhelmingly, 70 percent of Singapore respondents (compared to only 53 percent global average) believe the pace of change in business and industry today is too fast.

2. Trust in NGOs: A force for good

When the system is failing, the uncertainty in Singapore will turn to NGOs as the most trusted institutions at 58 percent. This should be viewed in partnership with government, which at 78 percent is the most trusted institution when the system is working or outlook is uncertain. Singapore’s NGO partnerships focused on training for lower income women for jobs in an underserved eldercare industry are a good example. NGOs also maintained its status as a credible voice at 43 percent.

3. Trust in Business: Companies (in Partnership with Government) are Expected to Act and Lead

Seventy-six percent of Singapore respondents agree a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.

The top attributes cited by Singapore respondents to rebuild trust when the system is failing are:

  1. Treat employees well
  2. Offer high quality products or services
  3. Has ethical business practices
  4. Takes responsible actions to address an issue or a crisis
  5. Listens to customer needs and feedback

Singapore respondents trust companies headquartered in Japan, Swden and Switzerland the most. Australia, Canada and Netherlands are also seen as trusted HQ company countries, with significant 6 to 16-point increases in trust this year. These rises could be attributed to MoUs and cooperation agreements on key areas: defense, digital infrastructure, science, innovation, fintech, cybersecurity, R&D, manufacturing, engineering etc. For example, in addition to Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s first official visit to Singapore, SMRT also enters technology partnership with Netherlands based 2getthere to bring driverless pods to Singapore and the region.

Education and healthcare are the two most trusted industries for both informed and general population.

The World Health Organization praises Singapore’s transparent, swift and successful response to Zika as a “role model”. The nation also increased healthcare financing for vulnerable group including senior citizens with significant Medisave top-ups.

The significant increases in education could be potentially be attributed to Singapore students emerging top in math, science and reading in the prestigious international benchmarking test Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), reflecting the nation’s renewed focus on knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems. In addition, its SkillsFuture scheme is seeing a staggering pace of expansion in course range.

4. Trust in People Behind the Institutions: Different Voices Needed to Amplify

Among the general population, CEO credibility fell double digits (14 points) to 36 percent. Board of Directors followed closely with a 10-point drop. With high profile CEO and senior executives scandals from Swiber, Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Marine, National Kidney Foundation to ST Marine, this may not be surprising. In addition, weak controls and lapses at Singapore Post’s Board were also highlighted in a special audit report on the Group’s corporate governance.

A slight concern is that a high percentage (48 percent) will support politicians they trust to make things better for me and my family, even if they exaggerate.

Compared to a company’s CEO or senior executives, its employees are now more trusted in Singapore to communicate about a company’s financial earnings and operational performance, treatment of employees and customers and even business practices and crisis. CEOs are primarily trusted to provide their views on industry issues (33 percent).

Technical and academic experts also continue to maintain their average as credible spokespeople. The voice of the employee increased by 4-points to 43 percent. Considering the rise in education as a trusted industry, this is not unexpected.

This further validates the findings that Singapore respondents believe individuals over institutions, reformers more than preserver of status quo and even leaked information over official press statements. This is not dissimilar among the global averages. Interestingly, the Singapore courts recently ruled that

the Government cannot invoke an anti-harassment law that allows persons to stop the publication of false statements against them. It was ruled that the law applied only to human beings. Compared to global averages however, Singapore respondents want to be communicated to in diplomatic and polite manner (59 percent) compared to receiving information in a blunt and outspoken way (41 percent). Bias is a major filter. 67 percent do not regularly listen to people or organizations with whom they often disagree.

5. Trust in Media: Dynamic Channel Duo of Search Engines and Traditional Media

Compared to global averages, the power combination of search engines and traditional media in Singapore continue to be the channels of choice for both informed and general population. This has been consistent for the past six years. This could be attributed to positive reactions to traditional media like Straits Times and the New Paper both restructuring in terms of senior editorial leadership, editorial style and format. On average, there has been a 4-point Trust drop in online or hybrid media, social media and owned media. Among informed publics, online or hybrid media and owned media saw the biggest drops of 12 and 7 points respectively. When it comes to believing company information though, 66 percent of Singapore respondents are more likely to believe a company’s social media over advertising.

Amanda Goh is CEO, Singapore

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