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Investor confidence: the heartbeat of business

Investor confidence: the heartbeat of business

When professionals fail to take responsibility for what they say and do, customers conclude that there will be little accountability in the event of an error, says Katherine Azmeh

June 8, 2010 3:15 by

Over dinner in a posh hotel, I asked my dinner companion if he had plans to attend an upcoming professional conference on investor confidence. He is a successful business person in the region, and I was keen to get his take on the notion that is garnering so much attention in the wake of the economic downturn and the debt restructuring in the UAE. His cynical laugh said it all.

“Money talks, the rest is buzz,” he said. “Conferences don’t win investors’ trust, profits do. Being in the black speaks for itself,” he said.

I’m afraid I disagree. Consider leading headlines in local media today:

Duped investors need justice.”

“Bank and police foil fraud worth $14 billion.”

Call me idealistic, but headlines like these don’t do much to encourage entrepreneurship or investment in the ideas of another. Headlines like these tell me to guard my money in a low-yield bank account, take the 2 percent interest they’re paying, and call it even. At least I’ll be safe that way.

Investor confidence is not buzz, it is the heartbeat of business. Perception becomes reality, and when the perception is that business does nothing to earn my confidence, then I will opt out of business. And this is bad news for everyone.

As an American journalist covering Middle Eastern business in Lebanon, I remember the frustration and confusion that attended my first months in this profession. Half-way through my first year, I arrived at one unmistakable conclusion: People in the country were reluctant to be quoted.

I remember a recent interview with a local bank representative. I scheduled an appointment and asked just a handful of simple, straightforward questions about the way local banks use credit scores to determine a customer’s fitness for a loan. Before offering any comments, he stressed that any answers would be completely anonymous. He didn’t want his name mentioned in the story, nor any answers credited to him. He phoned other bank personnel to get their reactions to his replies, and then stressed repeatedly his insistence that neither his name nor bank name be mentioned in the article.

I made a mental note that day that I would not be using his institution for my banking needs. In an environment where professionals are unwilling to take responsibility for what they say and do, customers conclude that there will be little accountability in the event of an error.

This apparent reluctance to take responsibility for what you say and do on behalf of your business has replayed itself numerous times. And Lebanon does not represent a special case. Companies in the region are quick to decline comment, or offer only anonymous answers. In an attempt to interview several credit agencies across the region, I encountered resistance to comment or answer simple questions about the basics of their business.

Contrast this scenario with my experience attempting to interview British and American banks for the same stories. In all cases, phones were answered promptly, contact was easily made with informed individuals. Employees were empowered and expected to answer questions within the scope of their job description – and more importantly, to stand behind their answers by providing their names and credentials.

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