The Power of ESG Data

It was Warren Buffett who said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” and that is the reality that all companies face on a daily basis. An effective set of ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) policies has never been more crucial. However, it is being hindered by difficulties surrounding the effective collection and communication of ESG data points, as well a lack of standardisation when it comes to reporting such data. As a result, the ESG space is being revolutionised by Artificial Intelligence, which can find, analyse and summarise this information.
 

There is increasing public and regulatory pressure on firms to ensure their policies are sustainable and on investors to take such policies into account when making investment decisions. The issue for investors is how to know which firms are good ESG performers and which are not. The majority of information dominating research and ESG indices comes from company-reported data. However, with little regulation surrounding this, responsible investors are plagued by unhelpful data gaps and “Greenwashing”. This is when a firm uses favourable data points and convoluted wording to appear more sustainable than they are in reality. They may even leave out data points that reflect badly on them. For example, firms such as Shell are accused of using the word ‘sustainable’ in their mission statement whilst providing little evidence to support their claims (1)

Could AI be the complete solution?

AI could be the key to help investors analyse the mountain of ESG data that is yet to be explored, both structured and unstructured. Historically, AI has been proven to successfully extract relevant information from data sources including news articles but it also offers new and exciting opportunities. Consider the transcripts of board meetings from a Korean firm: AI could be used to translate and examine such data using techniques such as Sentiment Analysis. Does the CEO seem passionate about ESG issues within the company? Are they worried about an investigation into Human Rights being undertaken against them? This is a task that would be labour-intensive, to say the least, for analysts to complete manually.  

 

In addition, AI offers an opportunity for investors to not only act responsibly, but also align their ESG goals to a profitable agenda. For example, algorithms are being developed that can connect specific ESG indicators to financial performance and can therefore be used by firms to identify the risk and reward of certain investments. 

 

Whilst AI offers numerous opportunities with regards to ESG investing, it is not without fault. Firstly, AI takes enormous amounts of computing power and, hence, energy. For example, in 2018, OpenAI found the level of computational power used to train the largest AI models has been doubling every 3.4 months since 2012 (2). With the majority of the world’s energy coming from non-renewable sources, it is not difficult to spot the contradiction in motives here. We must also consider whether AI is being used to its full potential; when simply used to scan company published data, AI could actually reinforce issues such as “Greenwashing”. Further, the issue of fake news and unreliable sources of information still plagues such methods and a lot of work has to go into ensuring these sources do not feature in algorithms used. 

 

When speaking with Dr Thomas Kuh, Head of Index at leading ESG data and AI firm Truvalue Labs™, he outlined the difficulties surrounding AI but noted that since it enables human beings to make more intelligent decisions, it is surely worth having in the investment process. In fact, he described the application of AI to ESG research as ‘inevitable’ as long as it is used effectively to overcome the shortcomings of current research methods. For instance, he emphasised that AI offers real time information that traditional sources simply cannot compete with. 

 A Future for AI?

According to a 2018 survey from Greenwich Associates (3), only 17% of investment professionals currently use AI as part of their process; however, 40% of respondents stated they would increase budgets for AI in the future. As an area where investors are seemingly unsatisfied with traditional data sources, ESG is likely to see more than its fair share of this increase. Firms such as BNP Paribas (4) and Ecofi Investissements (5) are already exploring AI opportunities and many firms are following suit. We at Leading Point see AI inevitably becoming integral to an effective responsible investment process and intend to be at the heart of this revolution. 

 

AI is by no means the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to ESG investing and depends on those behind it, constantly working to improve the algorithms, as well as the analysts using it to make more informed decisions. AI does, however, have the potential to revolutionise what a responsible investment means and help reallocate resources towards firms that will create a better future.

[1] The problem with corporate greenwashing

[2] AI and Compute

[3] Could AI Displace Investment Bank Research?

[4] How AI could shape the future of investment banking

[5] How AI Can Help Find ESG Opportunities

 

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”

AI offers an opportunity for investors to not only act responsibly, but also align their ESG goals to a profitable agenda

Anya Swales

Anya Swales

Leading Point

Environmental Social Governance (ESG) & Sustainable Investment

Client propositions and products in data driven transformation in ESG and Sustainable Investing. Previous roles include J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and EY.

Thushan Kumaraswamy

Thushan Kumaraswamy

Head of Solutions at Leading Point

Architecture lead with over 20 years’ experience helping the world’s biggest financial services providers to deliver practical business transformations in client data, treasury, sales, operations,, and major firm-wide efficiency initiatives.

Upcoming blogs:

This is the second in a series of blogs that will explore the ESG world: its growth, its potential opportunities and the constraints that are holding it back. We will explore the increasing importance of ESG and how it affects business leaders, investors, asset managers, regulatory actors and more.

 

 

Riding the ESG Regulatory Wave: In the third part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Alejandra explores the implementation challenges of ESG regulations hitting EU Asset Managers and Financial Institutions.

Is it time for VCs to take ESG seriously? In the fourth part of our  Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Ben explores the current research on why startups should start implementing and communicating ESG policies at the core of their business.

How Leading Point can help

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Bringing clarity to your company’s ESG data

Now more than ever, businesses are understanding the importance of having well-governed and socially-responsible practices in place. A clear understanding of your ESG metrics is pivotal in order to communicate your ESG strengths to investors, clients and potential employees.

By using our cloud-based data visualisation platform to bring together relevant metrics, we help organisations gain a standardised view and improve your ESG reporting and portfolio performance.  Our live ESG dashboard can be used to scenario plan, map out ESG strategy and tell the ESG story to stakeholders.

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Accelerating the collection of ESG metrics using AI

AI helps with the process of ingesting, analysing and distributing data as well as offering predictive abilities and assessing trends in the ESG space.  Leading Point is helping our AI startup partnerships adapt their technology to pursue this new opportunity, implementing these solutions into investment firms and supporting them with the use of the technology and data management.

We offer a specialised and personalised service based on firms’ ESG priorities.  We harness the power of technology and AI to bridge the ESG data gap, avoiding ‘greenwashing’ data trends and providing a complete solution for organisations.

Leading Point’s AI-implemented solutions decrease the time and effort needed to monitor current/past scandals of potential investments. Clients can see the benefits of increased output, improved KPIs and production of enhanced data outputs.

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Assisting companies to implement upcoming EU ESG regulations

Implementing ESG regulations and providing operational support to improve ESG metrics for banks and other financial institutions. Ensuring compliance by benchmarking and disclosing ESG information, in-depth data collection to satisfy corporate reporting requirements, conducting appropriate investment and risk management decisions, and to make disclosures to clients and fund investors.

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