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Unpacking Professional Trust – Dimensions of Trust in Swedish Auditors’ Client Relations

Journal article
Authors Bengt Larsson
Published in Sociological Research Online
Volume 12
Issue 2
Publication year 2007
Published at Department of Sociology
Language en
Keywords Trust, Confidence, Distrust, Social Control, Professions, Clients, Accountants, Auditors
Subject categories Sociology


This paper studies client trust in professionals, theoretically and empirically. The theoretical elaboration, founded on general sociological theories of trust, aims to distinguish different dimensions of trust – personal, impersonal, and process trust – and to explicate the stabilizing identities and control mechanisms on which they are based: persons, roles, programs and values. The empirical case study concerns what aspects of trust, and what expectations and controls, are most important for Swedish auditors when it comes to building and maintaining client trust. The analysis is based on data from a postal inquiry survey in 2003. It shows that practicing auditors experience the personal dimension of trust as primary, the processual as secondary, and the impersonal as tertiary. The study thus confirms the importance of personal trust between auditor and client, stabilized by the professional's individual character and conduct, but points also to the fact that the institutionalization of distrust in professional roles, programs and values is central for building personal as well as impersonal trust. The institutionalized roles, programs and values of the profession ensure that a minimum of trust from the market and the client is present before personal trust is established.

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