A Critique of Utilitarian Trust: The Case of the Dutch Insurance Sector

Erik J. van Rietschoten*, Koen van Bommel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The organizational trust literature relies strongly on the notion of trust and trustworthiness as a calculative cause-and-effect relationship aimed at assessing the advantages and disadvantages between two actors. This utilitarian notion of trust has been critiqued by studies that highlight construct inconsistencies related to utilitarian trust, which, it is argued, is deficient, incomplete and misleading. Our empirical study of the Dutch insurance sector identifies and categorizes three process inconsistencies that help to explain why the calculation of trust in a utilitarian sense is seemingly impossible in practice and is a barrier to the unambiguous assessment of individual needs and individual utility. These process inconsistencies successively concern insufficient information, complex behavioural dynamics, and a convoluted pattern of stakeholder influence to assess utility in trust relationships, specifically within complex socio-economic systems. Our findings contribute to the trust literature by proposing a classification of the previous critiques on utilitarian trust, and by showing that in scenarios of systematic rather than dyadic trust, process inconsistencies may be too strong to endure a ‘leap of faith’, at least with regard to suspension and assessing utilitarian trust in these more complex socio-economic systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1011-1028
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue numberApril
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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