The Wallet: blind faith is a bitter and jagged pill to swallow

Forget asking for a pay increase: just may sure you're not getting underpaid


There has been a lot of talk this week about trust - or rather, the breaching of it. The foremost example is revelations this week of major corporations diddling workers out of wages - not as innocent one-of mistakes, but systemic breaches stretching back years.


Coles is bringing back Bundy Clocks to keep track of hours worked by managers, after revealing a $20 million backpay bill. Woolworths was worse; it owes $300 million to underpaid workers. George Calombaris has lost his restaurant empire after a slow death resulting from $7.8 million in underpayments. And today, both Target and Officeworks are expected to announce today that they face similar problems.


As if Australian workers didn't have enough problems, now they're wondering if they're being underpaid. We heard yesterday from the ABS that wages rose half a per cent in the December quarter, however wage inflation drifted lower. It's a symptom of the trust deficit that's at the root of many problems plaguing our economy.


Businesses don't trust the RBA's overly-optimistic prognostications and the Morrison's government's pleadings enough to invest capital in this climate, keeping wages down and job creation tight. Workers don't trust their jobs are secure and aren't spending as a result. Banks don't trust loan applicants to tell the truth on their applications. Two out of three Australians aged between 30 and 49 are anxious they'll have enough to retire on. And with unemployment and underemployment currently sitting, according to Digital Finance Analytics, around 18 per cent, who can blame them?


Jennifer Hewett called in trust burn-out in her AFR column today. Confidence in our leaders is low, especially after a horror summer and as the blossoming implications of Covid-19 become clearer. We hear stories like this one about the wealthiest among us getting done for tax-dodging, and then wonder why the lower-paid of us are a little cranky at the current state of affairs.


We're communication professionals. There's a lot of work going for people like us at the moment, from companies and governments trying to convince people they're on the up-and-up. In that context, so much of what we do comes down to answering one seemingly-simple question: how to you show, not tell, that you're worthy of trust?


I was in the audience at AdWeek last year when Australian Banking Association CEO, Anna Bligh was asked about Australia's trust in the banking sector. Her reply was along the lines of "Australians do trust their banks. They trust us to look after their money and protect their personal data."


True enough. But these two factors are pretty basic in a Maslow's hierarchy of needs sense; the banking royal commission shone a pretty powerful light on the fact that beyond holding onto our money, we can trust banks to act in their own interests, not their customer's.


Demonstrating that you're trustworthy is harder, but far, far more effective than just telling people to trust you.


A quick word on property


The state of residential property prices is fascinating us at The Wallet right now - mostly because of the absurdity of rocketing house prices in a stagnating economy, but also because the story that isn't being told by auction clearance rate stories is, it's pretty bloody patchy out there.


We do quite a bit of work in the housing construction space, for example. You want a good price on a house in Sydney at the moment? Nut up and build one. Or look for an existing home outside the eastern suburbs; capital growth is escalating in outer suburbs of Sydney, for example, but average prices are still well below the city median.


The RBA is modelling that property prices will increase 20 per cent this cycle. Articles like this one and this one are lamenting that situation, while Australia's largest builders (eg Stockland) are banking on it. The RBA says it's moving to address housing wealth inequality but, with interest rates likely to remain low for some time, it has its work cut out.


We heard earlier this week that average home loan values has tipped over $500k - which doesn't seem much in the context of million-dollar-plus homes. But check out this heat map of where people are experiencing mortgage stress in Australia's major cities; clearly more people are overextending in order to get, and keep, their homes.


One property-related tidbit that'll make a lot of people happy: the NSW government is drafting legislation that will ban developers and real estate agents from holding local council positions. A solid do-not-say move to demonstrate trustworthiness.