Perspectives

The rising importance of the chief trust officer

Businesses are emphasising trust by appointing a Chief Trust Officer (CTrO) to oversee trust-building initiatives. This role involves assessing trust levels within and outside the organisation, focusing on domains like corporate culture, compliance, and customer experience.

As businesses grow in complexity, organisations are placing a greater importance on trust. In some cases, this means appointing a new executive level role, that of a chief trust officer (CTrO). What does this entail?

Sriraman Parthasarathy, Partner, Deloitte India, says, “The role of CTrO involves overseeing trust-building initiatives by continuously assessing the trust levels within and outside the organisation. The trust framework chosen by the organisation would typically include several domains covering interalia corporate culture, employee satisfaction, compliance, digital, customer experience, etc. While trust building is a collective responsibility within the company, having a CTrO often makes person directly accountable to the board, due to the critical and overarching nature of the role."

Shantanu Rooj, Founder and CEO, TeamLease Edtech, explains that the underlying reasoning for this designation is the rising importance of trust in today’s world. The pace of digital transformation, increasing polarisation of media, geopolitical uncertainty and increasing expectations of stakeholders make trust a top-of-mind issue for executives. As more business functions seek to demonstrate trust, the chief trust officer has emerged as a strategic leader to help build trust across organisation and the surrounding ecosystems.

Rooj adds specific examples to clarify the point: “Several companies have appointed chief trust officers to manage trust effectively. For instance, Salesforce named Lindsey Finch as chief trust and security officer in 2021, overseeing global trust and compliance. IBM appointed Christina Montgomery as chief privacy officer in 2019, focusing on privacy compliance. Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer Julie Brill ensures privacy standards worldwide. Google's Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright has been leading privacy and compliance efforts since 2018.”

Siva Prasad Nanduri, Chief Executive Officer, DTL Diensten Tech Ltd (DTL), clarifies that this role basically enables organisations to combine multiple roles like CISO and chief privacy officer. CTrO will be the single point of contact for activities revolving around cybersecurity and ESG.

Rooj, however, points out that the trend is in its early days and Indian companies might not have widely adopted the specific title of chief trust officer as commonly seen in western corporations. However, many Indian companies prioritise trust and data security, and they often have executives or teams responsible for similar functions, albeit under different titles. While the specific title of CTrO may not be that common here yet, the responsibilities associated with the role are likely distributed among various leadership positions within Indian companies, reflecting the global emphasis on trust and data protection in business operations.

Building for success: key skills and impact

Parthasarathy clarifies that measurement of the trust quotient for an entity not only covers gauging where an organisation stands in terms of stakeholder trust levels but also to understand how fruitful some of the corporate initiatives are towards building and fostering trust among its stakeholders.

Nanduri adds that this role also handles roles like customer experience, transparency, communication & data protection. This role requires someone to mix technological and finance. Proficiency in law is also desirable.

Rooj says that becoming a CTrO typically requires a blend of experience, expertise and demonstrated evidence of several personal qualities and traits. Professionals often ascend to this role from backgrounds in compliance, risk management, legal affairs or cybersecurity. Advanced degrees in law, business or related fields can provide a strong foundation. Additionally, certifications in areas such as privacy or ethics can bolster credentials.

Crucially, individuals aspiring to this position must demonstrate exemplary integrity, strategic thinking and a deep commitment to building and maintaining trust within the organisation and with external stakeholders. Beyond compliance, a CTrO champions integrity, earning customer loyalty and enhancing brand reputation in an era defined by trustworthiness.

According to Parthasarathy, "this trust measurement initiative requires the CTrO to have a balanced view and understanding of the changing business environment. “The chief trust officer must adeptly navigate shifting business landscapes, from regulatory compliance to digital transformation and sustainability. Right skillsets are required to understand the impact of each of the above aspects on the business and the knowledge to then measure an organisation’s effectiveness in building trust through these initiatives, showing a true picture to the leadership and then taking the right steps to improve trust quotient in the areas where there is a deficit and leverage it fully where the trust quotient is very high,” he adds.

The original article was published in Economic Times Careers on 28th May 2024

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