BlackLine Blog

April 06, 2020

How to Build Trust Within Accounting & Finance

Digital Transformation
2 Minute Read

Michael Shultz

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Organizations with high external trust—that of customers, stakeholders, and shareholders—reap tangible benefits. Research shows that high-trust organizations deliver up to 286% greater returns to shareholders than low-trust organizations, earn four times more than the market, and conduct key deals faster and more efficiently.

But what about organizations with high internal trust?

The benefits are just as profound. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, organizations with an internal culture of trust see 50% higher employee productivity, 76% higher engagement, 74% less stress, and 40% less burnout.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, employees who trust their employers are more willing to advocate for the company and are more likely to be committed and loyal—a tremendous advantage in a time when great talent is increasingly in short supply.

Within the accounting organization specifically, a high level of internal trust delivers even greater benefits. According to professor and author Stephen Covey, high levels of internal trust correlate with lower costs and higher speeds—key objectives of every accounting and finance function.

Declining Levels of Trust

Yet despite A&F’s responsibility to ensure trust in the numbers, trust between people within the organization itself may be declining. Increased pressure to deliver more real-time data in less time and rapidly changing responsibilities at every level are already straining relationships.

The professionals who are responsible for the day-to-day work of the close feel far removed from the CFO, whose role has evolved from one of pure Accounting to managing both operations and strategy. Controllers are stuck in the middle, tasked with day-to-day work—improving processes, increasing efficiency, and reducing costs—and yet simultaneously expected to evolve toward the more expansive role of a business partner.

Research shows that trust already varies greatly between different levels of the organization. According to an Ernst & Young survey on trust in the workplace, “less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss, or team colleagues.”

A lack of trust—in both processes and people—is also reflected in recent research by BlackLine, which found that while 71% of C-level executives trust the numbers, only 38% of staff do.

Building Trust

These discrepancies in trust between different levels of Accounting must be resolved if A&F is to compete and thrive in our increasingly competitive, ever-changing business landscape.

How then can your organization begin to build trust between all levels of accounting?

Trust is nurtured when organizations:
  • Enable people to do their best work. Accountants need the right technology to do their best work. And yet many accounting organizations still expect accountants to use outdated, manual processes for the close, despite the need for more real-time, continuous information and analysis.

  • Drive change management, not just change leadership. Change leadership is about vision; change management is about process. Yet too often, changes come down from the top, with the expectation that employees will simply adapt.

    Not only does this lower trust between leadership and staff, it’s also costly. As reported by Fast Company, one Fortune 500 company determined that it required 89 weeks to “execute change.” The reason for the long time period? Thirty-nine weeks were the “direct result of mistrust.”

  • Invest in human beings. Future success will demand even great automation, agility, and AI capabilities. But success will also require higher cognitive skills, abilities still unique to human beings.

People at every level of the accounting organization need access to continuous development and training, both to ensure they have the skills they need and to drive engagement and commitment to the organization.

How else can organizations build trust between the levels of Accounting? Read this white paper to discover four more practical steps.

About the Author


Michael Shultz