Editor's note: This article appeared in the June 28, 2011, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.

Distrust of corporations remains high among American consumers three-plus years after the nation's financial crisis, with a majority (64 percent) saying it's harder for U.S. companies to gain their trust today than it was a few years ago. Further, it appears this lack of confidence will continue into the future, with more than half (55 percent) saying it will be harder for corporations to gain their trust in the years to come, according to a study from GfK Custom Research North American, a New York research company. The national online survey examined trust across ages and industries, as well as the factors influencing the level of trust consumers have towards corporations.


Distrust is particularly high among The Influential Americans, GfK Custom Research North America's proprietary, leading-indicator segment representing the 10 percent of Americans most involved in creating change in society. Three-fourths of The Influential Americans find it harder to trust companies today than they did a few years ago and six in 10 agree it will be even harder to earn their trust in the future.


The top reasons for mistrust suggest that corporations have issues to address on multiple fronts. At the top: public perceptions of CEOs and senior executives being overpaid; corruption among corporate management; that companies make up lost earnings at their customers' expense; and that more and more products are being made overseas.


While Americans across the board cite similar reasons for their mistrust in companies, The Influential Americans are more likely to say that a lack of stability of the "top" companies is a major reason for their distrust of business. But, in what appears to be a potential source of comfort for the business community, this bellwether segment puts less weight on declining product/service quality as a reason for declining levels of trust.


Surveys by GfK Roper Consulting corroborate that consumers remain highly suspicious of corporations. Only 16 percent of the public, for example, feel corporate corruption will get better in the next five years, a decline of 9 percentage points from 2003.


Trust levels vary by industry, with The Influential Americans viewing technology companies as the most trustworthy with a trust level of 70 percent. The Influential Americans also stand out for being less critical than the average American of embattled industries such as insurance (44 percent) and financial services (45 percent). 


"The Influential Americans' role as word-of-mouth leaders - folks who are actively recommending products and services - means that, if approached correctly they could be allies in rebuilding trust in the financial services industry," says Doug Cottings, managing director, GfK Financial Services. "Strong endorsements, based on personal experience, could help companies break through the clutter and build business."