Transparency versus Trust?


So much is said in the media in recent years about how transparency is key to trust. We pressure businesses, institutions, even countries to be transparent so that we can trust them. Really?

This year I was at a talk by Rachel Botsman, author of “Who can you Trust ?”, where she very effectively questioned this conventional wisdom, by asking us to consider a thought experiment, as follows:

“You are married, your spouse has been away on a business trip for an extended period. When they walk into your house, do you immediately ask them to unlock their phone, then investigate every message, email, facebook post they have made or received since you last saw them?”

I’ve run this thought experiment several times since. The answer is always “no, of course, I wouldn’t”, then when I ask “why is that?”, the automatic answer is always “because I trust them!”.

If that is the case in personal relationships, then why do we consider transparency a universal “good”?

Let us extrapolate that idea of checking the phone to business and governance.

Do shareholders in a business insist on going into that business and checking the work of any or all staff at a detailed level? Of course not, it would be incredibly inefficient to do so.

What do they do instead? They appoint qualified and experienced managers, they implement systems, processes and controls.

As a Caymanian, I am considering why there is such a drive from the UK Government to insist, in the name of transparency, on open registers of all owners of companies.

The Cayman Islands Government already has qualified and experienced managers, systems, processes and controls that are efficient and effective ways to ensure criminal and other ownership issues are open to the authorities of other nations.

Why insist on such a level of inefficient transparency then?

Could the answer be simple, that the UK doesn’t truly trust the Cayman Islands? Despite the diplomatic talk from the UK of the importance of the relationship between the two countries, it is a universal truth that trust is at the heart of all relationships. Does the insistence they are making on transparency indicate that the trust between the countries is damaged?

Naturally, that particular conversation may be nuanced, but it does make me wonder.

Transparency? Trust ?

When you are insisting on transparency, ask yourself honestly, is it something I truly need, or is it (to some level at least) driven by a lack of trust?

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