Technology, trust and business

By Dennis Nally, PricewaterhouseCoopers International

At the end of June 2016, I'll conclude my two terms as Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited. The change we've seen in those seven years is a far cry from my first day at PwC in 1974, when the internet was still 15 years in the future and mobile computing was in the realm of science fiction.

It's a world where everyone has a mobile device and old certainties about society and business are being subverted by the day. And our analysis shows it's only the start.

According to the recent PwC analysis by 2025, just five sectors of the sharing economy - peer-to-peer accommodation, car sharing, peer-to-peer finance, music, TV and video streaming, and online staffing - could be generating collective global revenues of some US$335bn.

As this maelstrom of change plays out, perhaps the biggest shift affecting our sector of professional services, is that people today expect more from business than ever before. Business is expected to play a role in society beyond generating profit for its shareholders - while also contributing to helping to tackle pressing global problems ranging from climate change to inequality.

This shift takes place amid closer scrutiny from a widening range of stakeholders - from regulators to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to social media bloggers - all seeking greater transparency and accountability.

As these dynamics have evolved, and the importance of companies' core purpose has grown, so the focus has shifted from what business does to how it does it - and at what cost to others. Our profession's ability to deliver on both counts is increasingly driven and shaped by technology and transparency.

In my view, the successful organizations of the future will be those that have a clear purpose, articulate it well, and embed it at all levels throughout the business. As an example, PwC's purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. It develops a positive culture, and a workforce who feel confident and supported in doing the right thing.

However, it's inevitable that trying to do the right thing will create challenging issues in some areas - with one of the most prominent being the question of what moral obligation there exists when advising clients on tax. Here I believe we have a responsibility to ensure we discuss the wider perspective with clients, and help them decide what 'the right thing to do' means for their various stakeholder groups, and by extension for their business. If a purpose isn't driving behavior like this, it risks becoming a slogan.

Our research confirms that in many cases this risk is very real. Only half of CEOs say employees will be positively viewed for acting in accordance with those values. Perhaps most tellingly, two-thirds say legacy culture and old ideas are hindering new ways of doing things.

All of this underlines the scale of the task facing today's CEOs, as they strive to reshape companies into ones where profit and purpose combine.

A new model for building trust

For this fusion of profit and purpose to succeed in recalibrating public perceptions of business, we'll need a new model for building trust, providing stakeholders with deeper, wider and more transparent insights into their business.

Clear lessons can be gleaned from the growth of the sharing economy - spearheaded by the likes of Airbnb, Uber and TripAdvisor - based on a new form of trust that's more peer-to-peer and less institutional.

The new model for trust will communicate transparently and credibly around the culture and behavior of the business, its approaches to remuneration and risk, and how these elements link to overall business performance. It will also take into account environmental impacts, and the broader aspects of sustainability in society and communities. Sophisticated technology to analyze 'big data' from within and beyond the organization, insightful commentary, and information that's as near real-time and as forward-looking as possible, will allow different stakeholders to interrogate information from their own perspective.

This future brings many profound implications. The heightened importance of technology in building and sustaining trust will demand new and different skillsets from the ones that companies often needed in the past.


The future: blending people and technology

Combine these attributes, and a picture of the future of our profession begins to emerge - one with human insight at its core. The rising power of technology has prompted some to ask whether the days of assurance delivered by human auditors are numbered. They aren't.

To remain relevant for clients and resilient for all our stakeholders in the future that's now taking shape, our profession needs to avoid regarding advancing technology as a threat that could effectively replace our role, and instead embrace a world where technology matters more than ever before. If there's a lasting legacy I want to leave with PwC, it's that I emboldened the PwC network towards that investment and change.

So, what kind of profession will all this create? We'll be at the nexus where technology, professional judgment and public trust converge and combine. And for any young person setting out on their professional career with the energy and ambition to make a positive difference to the world, as I did in 1974, I can't think of a better place to start.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with the Social Innovation Summit 2016, the premier social impact event of the year representing a meticulously curated gathering of corporate executives, global philanthropists, technologists, grantmakers, innovators, and social entrepreneurs converging from around the world during this exclusive two-day event in Washington, DC. You may learn more at www.socinnovation.com.