What’s the difference between trust and faith? Something I’ve been pondering recently.

Nigerians — we have faith. We are, as a people, deeply religious and we have faith in our chosen Gods. We’ve never seen Him [or Her] but we have faith that God exists. We have no data points, other than the Bible which, of course, as a data source and piece of evidence, is another story.. But apart from that, we have no data. We just have faith.

I am not the first to raise the point about data in relation to faith; indeed Doubting Thomas requested evidence [data] in order for him to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He didn’t have faith, yet when he was presented with the data, seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds, he was forced to trust that Jesus had risen from the dead.

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;t blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26–29

Interestingly, Thomas’ data request, his need to have his faith “proved”, was actually interpreted by the Catholic Church as a blueprint for pilgrimages and the use of relics as data sets for reinforcing Christian beliefs. Data underpins trust-based decisions.

Moving forward a couple of thousand years, and in stark contrast to the Doubting Thomas analogy, let’s take a look at bankers — an area I am even more familiar with. Just twenty years ago, you would expect the archetypal banker to work at a reputable, physical bank, behind a desk, wearing a pin-stripe suit and being a certain way. A banker’s optics and physical location was a core data point in much the same way Thomas being able to touch Jesus’ wounds, was.

That generation of bankers [and customers] still exists; my father, for example, will still rely on historical data [as mentioned above] to make a decision regarding his banking and financial services requirements. He expects some form of personal interaction, as a data point, to build trust and inform his decision. He has faith in the institution but he builds trust through those that represent it. My son, however, when setting up a bank account, does not in any way expect to be “sold to” by a human as he sees that as less trustworthy than an app’s data points [branding + algorithms + word of mouth]. He wants no personal interaction and does not expect to engage with a real life human. He doesn’t want to visit a bank. It’s likely he doesn’t even want to use a desktop computer, but instead a mobile phone.

These are two extremes of how people currently engage with financial services [purists at either end of the spectrum], and the vast majority of people probably still reside roughly in the middle; but as digital platforms grow and continue to build trust through efficiency, enhanced productivity, safety and unbiased decision making, we will see mass adoption and true financial inclusion through the financial technology approach. Millions more people will trust in banking apps because they will have the data points to support their decisions. My son didn’t need to see trust from a decades-long established or typical system… he is accustomed to moving information / data / money around, in a seamless and borderless way — the system he’s operating within has built up his trust in it. He is far more likely to make a decision based on what his peers [or influencers] say rather than what the old school systems propose. It’s basically P2P financial marketing. Peers and friends are seen as more trustworthy, because you have multiple data sets built around them from your own personal experience. You have so much data and opportunity to engage, it makes decision making a lot easier. Today, peers are considered more trustworthy advocates than institutions.

My son is a digital native though, so this isn’t hugely surprising. But COVID has been a massive catalyst for bringing those in between my father’s and my son’s age into the financial system. It has reconfigured, at scale, how people build trust through data. And as the system has matured and developed more data points — with the platforms and processes in place — it has built more trust. These systems had to not only be in place, but also tested rigorously — as with any company, digital or not, if you don’t have the right systems in place, you won’t inspire faith or trust. So if we build platforms and new institutions that are transparent and safe and simple and accountable, we will build new levels of trust, where we don’t rely solely on faith.

Or is it the case that trust and faith will merge into one and the same definition?

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