There is, as ever, no such country as APACMEA (Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa). But if there were it might be thought to be a little confused, because whilst the region includes the five most trusting markets we survey (UAE, India, Indonesia, China and Singapore) it also includes three distrusters (Hong Kong, S. Africa, S. Korea) and Japan, the least trusting country of all.
Of the four institutions we survey, NGOs remain the most trusted in the region (66 percent) followed by business (63 percent), media (58 percent) and government (56 percent) – the same order we found globally. But if we unpack those numbers, a different story emerges.
Trust in NGOs fell in nine of the 11 markets we survey in the region and some of those falls were precipitous. In China due to repeated transparency scandals on fundraising and spending for a number of NGOs, especially charity funds, trust among informed publics fell 12 percentage points. In Hong Kong due to negative association with the Occupy movement and a failure to address the issues it raised, trust fell by 14 points. So whilst NGOs remain the most trusted institution, and we still recommend that business engage with them on leadership issues, it is especially important to pick a partner with good governance in the region. But if this is a trend not a blip, then NGOs may soon lose their “most trusted” crown to business.
Media in Indonesia (80 percent), UAE (79 percent), China (77 percent) and India (76 percent) is the most trusted in the world and Singapore ranks sixth (59 percent). Print media and traditional media is still growing in parts of India where new affluence and literacy continues to expand the reader base. But, the scores for China, UAE and Singapore often surprise as government takes a strong lead in editorial decisions in those markets. Clearly, the understanding of the role of media is different to the West, with freedom of speech in APACMEA sometimes being viewed as less important than nation building and consensus forming. There is a limit to this however and maybe Western norms are beginning to prevail. Big drops in trust in Singapore (-11 percent) were caused by what is often seen as tame coverage of public service failings. In Hong Kong, the traditional media’s role in covering the democracy protests was viewed as polarized and biased, helping it to become hugely undermined by social media which, in effect, led coverage and debate about what was happening on the streets. In fact, trust in media dropped in seven of the 11 APACMEA nations we survey.
The five nations where government is trusted most are all in the APACMEA region (UAE, India, China, Indonesia and Singapore). For as many years as we have been surveying trust, both informed and general publics have conferred trust on governments (and to some extent all institutions) they believe have guided their country to more economic prosperity and security. Developing economies inevitably do well by this measure, where-as in contrast, European governments have often been penalized. Trust in government, by and large, correlates with economic success. There is no correlation between trust and democracy (in fact the opposite).
It is in trust in government that the region is the most extreme as three of the lowest global scores go to South Africa, South Korea and Japan.
And in keeping with that pattern, APACMEA has both the lowest score of trust in business (South Korea) and the three highest (UAE, Indonesia and India). South Korea, which managed to decline from only 39 percent of people trusting business to “do what is right,” to a catastrophic 36 percent, breaks the correlation between economic and trust success. A hugely successful export focused economy dominated to an unparalleled extant by 13 chaebols or conglomerates should, in theory, be lauded with trust and license, but instead comparatively anemic recent growth rates and the sense that the chaebols are too dominant and corrupt puts Korean brands and businesses at a distinct disadvantage in their home market. Ironically, they are trusted by more people abroad (51 percent) than they are at home.
The opposite is true of businesses in China or India, which are highly trusted at home (77 percent and 87 percent respectively) but score incredibly badly abroad (India 34 percent; China 36 percent). This is hugely important for businesses looking to expand, acquire, create partnerships and generally trade and sell their products and services, and especially so in the developed economies. A business based in a developing economy might be trusted by 57 percent of people to “do what is right” in another developing economy, but that figure plummets to a mere 22 percent when they venture to a developed economy. And to add to the insult, businesses based in developed economies are significantly more trusted in developing economy markets than they are at home (77 percent).
Our Trust Barometer data leads us to conclude that businesses from APACMEA and all developing economies need to over index on engagement and communication when they venture abroad, rather than relying purely on scale or financial muscle. Lack of trust abroad costs money, time and effort to overcome in the form of overpriced deals, unwelcoming governments and authorities, suspicious unions and skeptical customers.
And finally, and on a more optimistic note for the region, this year we studied for the first time the relationship between innovations and trust. The good news is that a “trusting tide lifts all boats” and so informed publics in our region are among the most receptive to new innovations and services.
As always, it is difficult to make generalizations for a region that includes China, Australia, South Africa and UAE to name but four contrasts. The real value in our survey is not in the regional or global data (except as a comparator) but in the deep dive market studies which, as always, provide both stimulating and actionable data for boardrooms, communications professionals and creatives.