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The stimulus America needs: trust

Public trust in businesses is rock bottom. Simplicity will win it back.

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In an effort to rebuild decades worth of lost trust, President Obama has called for transparency and openness in government. And a good thing too, as the intensity of consumer distrust is at the highest I've seen it in the past 30 years.

A survey of 1,200 adults we conducted this month reveals that trust in banks, mortgage lenders, and brokers has plunged nearly 40 percent in one year. Moreover, 63 percent of those surveyed feel that these businesses flagrantly make things more complicated in order to hide real risks. So how can businesses rebuild trust amid today's global economy, deceptive propositions, double talk, and disclaimers?

They need to incorporate clarity and simplicity into their programs and communications. Corporations need to do more than improve governance and raise capital. They have to speak plainly to their constituencies. It is time to come out from behind unintelligible language.

Consider how one bank explained its "Simplicity card": "All your APRs may automatically increase up to the Default APR if you default under any Card Agreement that you have with us because you fail to make a payment to us when due…"

With effort, you might have gotten the gist behind the happy sounding card and the thick language: Make a late payment on any card at the bank, and the bank will slam you with increased interest rates.

Can this kind of behavior possibly foster trust?

Government is just as guilty. Every spring, Americans are forced to face the challenge of filing taxes – an odious and emotionally charged ordeal that only alienates citizens and further weakens the bonds of civic trust.

In the poll I cited, Americans say that they are primed to demand simpler, more open practices and communications. The problem is, individual Americans have never stepped up to the plate.

Think of the times all of us just go ahead and pay phone bills we can't decipher, suffer higher credit card fees for reasons we don't understand, or stash puzzling healthcare bills in the drawer – unread. Giving up because we can't understand something only encourages companies to underserve and deceive us.

Why tolerate overly complex, confusing propositions at all? Why do we allow organizations to bury basic terms of their business in technical jargon?

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