Trust is the key topic that keeps popping up at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Trust in: politicians, business, institutions and technology…

The discussion is not only around how to build trust, but how technology can be used to build trust between consumers and institutions. This is not a new problem; trust has always been something to build, gradually and slowly. But in the age of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, there are an increasing number of challenges and new threats to the slow, steady building of trust.

It was with this in mind that I attended an event on big data. Accountants are in a fortunate position; we handle data to build a picture of our clients’ work and overall financial health. Big data is driving the accountancy industry’s shift from returns reporting to transaction transparency; it will also help benchmarking and comparison reporting for clients. But it struck me that we as an industry are the exception.

Another consequence of living in the fourth industrial revolution is that we’ve moved now from discussing the concept of what a digital economy might look like, to looking at the implications for consumers and companies alike. Take big data for instance. The debate about how companies use personal data and what protections are in place to prevent fraud and hacking has been part of the public debate for some years now. However, the question now is: Who owns the value?

If a company is making profits from collecting data, at what point does it cease to belong to you? If the company is making money from your information, why don’t you benefit, too? Where does your ownership of the data end, and when does it become the property of corporations?

To me, this comes back to trust. And the answer hasn’t changed; companies, governments and organizations can build trust by showing that their number one priority is building trust. Trust that it is embedded at their core and trust that the decisions they make are for the long-term good, rather than the short-term gain. This is as true in the fourth industrial revolution, as it was in the first.