How Trust Online is Evolving

Trust is the cornerstone of any successful transaction between two businesses, but as the old world of in-person relationships changes to instant online interactions, how do we confirm trust to do quicker and more efficient business.

In the past – Institutional Trust

Previously important transactions such as transferring money or signing a new agreement would be conducted in person – with the physical branch of a large institution providing the trust for the transaction take place.

So to our parent’s generation the concept of doing this remotely would be outlandish and untrusted, as the trust in the common institution would give the confidence required for the transaction to take place – with the customer having the reassurance that there is a physical location and staff to contact in the event of a problem.

Today – Trust Providers

Today this transaction has typically moved online, as this is faster and more efficient for the customer, but the physical reassurance of a trusted institution is less available.

This is mitigated by using a third party trust that underpins the transaction. This could for instance be a shared payment processing engine as the virtual service provider liaising between customer, bank and vendor to help underwrite the safe implementation of the transaction.

The element of a third party provides trust in different ways. Firstly, by trust in the organisation involved as a safe partner in handling the data or money in the transaction. Some typical examples are PayPal, WorldPay or SagePay. This trust is built by industry statue and common regulations.

Secondly is trust in the service via common standards, most commonly via Cryptography using SSL Certificates to confirm that data is encrypted in transit with an appropriate level of security and that this encryption is underwritten by the third party that has issued the certificate.

In reality, this trust is being distributed between various service providers or modules in the chain to allow the providers to work in unison, each with an area of trust to handle the overall transaction.

This series of trusted components working together then forms the glue that allows such transactions to take place immediately over the internet.

The most obvious example of this is enabling Payment Systems for Online Transactions, but the same model applies for electronic signature platforms such as Docusign, we know the signature carries weight by the trust in the organisation and the security of the service.

This concept of third parties mediating transactions for trust being the current well-established model for agreeing business and transfer online.

Who controls the Controllers?

The problem with centralised 3rd parties providing the trust and platforms that allow us to do business is that the platform cost effectively becomes an ongoing expense to many businesses.

We have seen over the last 20 years, innovation in the Internet has allowed business to no longer be as dependent on large ‘middle-men’ institutions – and the next step is to look at how trust and the platform can further be decentralised.

The Future – Decentralised Trust and Blockchain

The concept of distributed services delivering an ecosystem to do business is evolving into Blockchain Technology – the trust is effectively decentralised into each block in the chain rather than coming from third Party Trusts.

Whilst Blockchain is traditionally connected to Bitcoin, the essence behind Blockchain is a way to build systems that share trust over a distributed network and so be a complete evolution in our current concept of trust.

So the current excitement in Blockchain is essentially around trust and a sense of liberating trust online to avoid being dependent on existing providers. To Bitcoin advocates, this can or will facilitate a world where currency is no longer dependent on banks as the trust fully moves to the network over the institution.

We can see this today as big tech organisations are beginning to occupy similar positions to big finance in the noughties – and as we have seen fintech begin to innovate away from larger finance to smaller tech companies and services, we could well see ‘TrustTech’ companies investing in blockchain and use distributed networks to build their own services which deliver innovation and act outside the traditional big platforms.

What this means for the way we do business?

This concept of trust underpins how we do business online and this can be an opportunity or a burden for many organisations – the key to success is in realising the opportunity to do better and more trusted business, and removing some of the barriers that can make this a hurdle.

Decentralisation will be king as small companies are able to access the services and technologies that were previously out of reach. This will have two major outcomes: enabling a more entrepreneurial outlook in teams and employees, as more powerful tools are available, and allowing smaller nimbler companies to out-fox larger slower organisations.

Relationships will be the primary source of value to companies, as customers move to a subscriber model of doing business. With the advent of GDPR, we have all had numerous ‘opt-in’ style emails to try and maintain a relationship from us as an individual to a company – but how much value is really in that relationship if we have no legitimate reason to continue it beyond an opt-in? The changing landscape here should be used to focus on the relationships that hold real value.

Targeted Products and Services, the flipside of decentralisation is that customers are exposed to more potential services – so ensuring that your business has a defined identity, can clearly differentiate what you offer and why it should be you will be more important than ever before.


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