How a chief trust officer can help your business build and manage customer trust

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Today’s customers pay attention to the promises businesses make — and whether or not they keep them. Companies that evolve from looking at privacy, security, ethics and compliance, and ESG programs as compliance initiatives into building trust will gain a competitive edge. In fact, a recent survey indicated 40% of customers no longer do business with a brand they love because they no longer trust them.

Trust makes your brand more valuable and enhances your market reputation. Prioritizing trust-centered policies is a critical strategy for any leading business today.

Building and sustaining consumer trust is an ongoing endeavor that requires consistent, dedicated leadership to support it. It will take time and investment to earn and build consumer trust. At the same time, it doesn’t take much to lose trust, either.

Every interaction with your business represents an opportunity to build — or lose — a customer’s trust.

If you exercise focus on the aspects of customer trust you can control — privacy, transparency, and ethical decision-making — you’ll be better equipped to handle what’s outside of your control — third-party breaches, regulatory changes, market shifts, etc.

The good news is that if you succeed in earning trust from customers through consistent, systemic practices, it’s a competitive advantage that’s difficult to copy.

In response to this, a new position in the C-suite is emerging: the Chief Trust Officer.

What is a Chief Trust Officer? 

A business’ success measures are more complex today than ever before. In addition to profit and loss statements, CEOs today are accountable for company values, ethics, and governance practices. 

A Chief Trust Officer (CTrO) helps the business fulfill its promises to customers and stakeholders on security, privacy, data, ethics, and ESG matters by examining them through a trust-centric lens. 

They’ll also support company efforts for hiring and retaining today’s ethically-conscious workforce.

In some businesses, a Chief Trust Officer is a next-step evolution of a Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Data Officer, or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). In others, trust isn’t managed by a single person, but by bringing together groups of individuals across the company focused on building and sustaining trust. 

What Value Does a Chief Trust Officer Bring? 

The emergence of the Chief Trust Officer signifies the importance of consumer trust to leading businesses. A Chief Trust Officer will:  

  • Pay close attention to your customers’ needs regarding data and trust. 
  • Advocate for trust-centric decisions on the executive level. 
  • Create company-wide initiatives that support employee retention and satisfaction goals.

The role of a Chief Trust Officer is to transform an organization’s relationship with compliance to be a business differentiator with stakeholders — including customers, employees, partners, and the public at large. 

The value provided by someone in this position is to aspire to something greater than compliance. They use privacy, security, ethics, and ESG activities as an opportunity to build and deepen bonds with customers, employees, and partners, creating significant value for the business. 

Focus Areas for the Chief Trust Officer

The Chief Trust Officer will need to audit, create policies, and maintain company-wide accountability for privacy, compliance, and governance-related activities. Their role will shift the team’s perspective from fulfilling legal requirements to a more holistic, trust-centered purpose.

Data Breach Preparation and Response

According to a recent survey, 51% of responding companies experienced a data breach by a third party. This is a tangible threat that data owners and processors face today. 

The response time to a breach comes down to minutes and hours. A moment of crisis cannot be the first time your team holistically considers how trust factors into the value of your brand, reputation, and relationships. 

Proactive investment in trust-centered activities helps lessen the impact of data breach incidents. 

The Chief Trust Officer’s role is to create alignment across your company’s values, policy, and action well before a crisis occurs. Their proactive efforts should enhance the company response and mitigate potentially negative impacts to your business’ most important relationships.  

Customer Relationships  

The Chief Trust Officer will focus on the customers’ perception of data usage by your business. They’ll help customers understand you’ll handle their data securely and ethically. 

The Chief Trust Officer will help communicate the benefits to the customer, including the value exchange that occurs when they share their data. 

When you approach compliance through a trust-oriented lens, you’ll find it’s easier for your customers to relate to a broader, shared purpose that your business facilitates for them. 

Employee Hiring and Retention 

Today’s employees require companies to align with their values. This rings true for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activities throughout the business. 

Employees who find authentic meaning in their work are more productive and likely to remain loyal to their employer. The key to retaining top-performers comes down to consistently providing a workplace that honors these values. 

A Chief Trust Officer can help a business develop trust-centered policies aligned with company and employee values. Companies that evolve from looking at privacy, GRC, ethics, and compliance, and ESG programs as compliance initiatives into building trust will gain a competitive edge and support a healthy, thriving employee base.

How to Form a Trust Office

The Chief Trust Officer is a new position in the C-suite. Creating a trust office within your organization will require engagement across several levels of leadership and staff. 

Businesses that already have a CPO, CDO, or CISO in the C-suite may choose to evolve one of these positions into a CTrO. Flipping the lens from compliance to trust will have downstream effects on objectives, practices, and goals. 

The CTrO’s responsibilities may still include compliance oversight, but the shift in purpose will enable stronger partnerships with business process owners. These collaborations will enhance trust outcomes for customers, stakeholders, and employees. 

Forming a new trust office from scratch can occur in a few ways. If your aim is to create a dedicated trust department, you may start with an executive hire who can subsequently build out their team. This hire may come from within your existing employee roster. Their institutional knowledge will be a vital asset. 

Alternatively, hiring a new executive enables a fresh start for this groundbreaking work. You may consider looking at privacy, data, and information security leaders with an innovative vision.  

A grassroots approach is also feasible. Hand-raising employees are an asset to your organization. Your staff is engaging with customers, creating your products, performing ESG-related work, and supporting human resources. Trust is already on their minds. 

These highly engaged employees can already identify what builds — or has the potential to break — stakeholder trust. They will come to the table with ideas on how to enhance the activities that contribute to long-term trust objectives.   

Some organizations may opt for a more holistic approach to increase the focus on trust for their business. This may include updating your company mission, vision, or values to reflect this point of view. 

To ensure this translates to operations, each department will need to meaningfully engage with these changes. This work may also count on a committee of internal stakeholders who represent diverse departments and levels across the company. 

Measuring Results 

The Chief Trust Officer is a fast-emerging position in the C-suite. As a result, the benchmarks for value creation are also a developing practice for organizations that take a trust-centered approach. 

Organizations may opt to measure common key performance indicators typically used for other departments when evaluating the impact of a Chief Trust Officer. A net promoter score may help measure the affinity towards your brand over time. Client retention rates may also factor in. 

While it may be tempting to seek out hard figures surrounding the outcomes of a trust program, the reality is the results may present themselves more holistically. Looking at the health of your overall ecosystem — with customers, with partners, with employees — will be essential. 


At OneTrust, our mission is simple: build technology so our customers can be more trusted. To learn more about our culture of trust, check out the OneTrust Trust Center.

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