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An aunt recently told me how the online capabilities offered by many companies, especially financial services ones, was making such a positive difference to her life. The statement itself wasn’t surprising, especially seeing that my aunt cannot drive so the convenience of online banking or shopping to her was obvious. What was surprising to me was that she is a pensioner and hearing her wax lyrical about online transacting immediately shattered all my preconceived stereotypes about who have actually caught the digital wave of online banking and shopping.

More to the point of this piece, what is it that makes users comfortable with using the various online services now on offer? The convenience ushered in by increasing digitisation is palpably evident. The safety and security of these options may, however, be contributing extensively to the skepticism and doubt that currently prevents a greater take-up of online services.

Globally renowned data breaches such as the Home Depot Inc case of 2014 which impacted about 50m US consumers, the reported R300m card fraud hit on Standard Bank through the use of fictitious cards at various ATMs in Japan and the “Panama Papers” leak all indicate that in one way or another, the integrity of customer data is always at risk.

Commendably, most companies do invest heavily in IT infrastructure to protect the integrity of customer information with which they are entrusted. Those that don’t should not underestimate the business benefits that could accrue from this.

This becomes particularly imperative as marketing engagements diversify from being essentially mainstream-driven to digital and social media platforms. If the medium and the company are distrusted, how likely are consumers and other stakeholders to trust these messages on which massive amounts are spent?

My aunt, for instance, alluded to this, stating that she had no reason not to trust the companies she transacts with. Fortunately, the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that, globally, trust in institutions, including business, media NGOs and government has risen to its highest level since the global financial crisis of around 2007 to 2009.

It is essential therefore that companies make business decisions that builds trust among all their key stakeholders and enhances their reputation. It is equally imperative to firstly map these key stakeholders and devise communication strategies that contribute towards trust and reputation enhancement.

Besides building trust, sound reputation capital also helps to, inter alia, attract and retain top employees, build internal morale and contribute to business success by attracting and retaining customers – from all age groups.

Just ask my pensioner aunt.