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Bahar Gidwani


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The Third Era of ESG Investment Integration

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 22, 2020 10:34:56 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

As the 2020 ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) season begins, we appear to be entering the third era of ESG investment integration.

The first generation of ESG investors used data on topics such as product involvESG arrowement (alcohol, tobacco, gambling) or business practices (anti-union, involvement in Burma) to screen out “bad” companies.  These investors often relied on a single data provider and simple guidelines (e.g., <5% of revenue is OK, more than 5% of revenue is bad).

The second generation of ESG investors decided that a company’s sustainability performance should be related to its riskiness and/or its financial performance.  They used multiple ESG data sets to scan large universes of companies such as the Russell 3000 or the MSCI ACWI.  It was hard to reconcile the disparate signals from these data sets—each was based on its own methodology towards measuring sustainability.  It was also hard to get coverage across an entire investment universe.  As a result, this approach required some finesse and finagling.  An analyst or portfolio manager might have to rely on his or her own instincts or insights about whether or not a particular company would fit into a given investment approach.

The third generation of ESG integration has now begun.  The existing data sets have been broadened to improve their coverage and their providers have clarified their methodologies.  New data sets are available that offer insights that were not previously available.  A wider range of asset owners are requesting investment products that have sustainability-related claims.  This has prompted the creation of passive ETFs, single theme funds (e.g., gender lens, decarbonized), and various types of hedge funds (including long-short and short-only offerings).

As is often the case with new theories, proof of their validity is not yet available.  While many claims of investment outperformance, risk avoidance, and social impact are being made, few participants in the ESG space seem able to share evidence that supports these claims.  Academic studies are lagging far behind.  Most seem to still be mulling era 1 or 2 issues.  This is not an unusual situation for the money management market.  Many past “hot” investment ideas have turned out to be money-losing duds.

It is probably impossible to list all of the themes that are currently being pursued.  There seem to be hundreds of competing theories for how best to generate and use ESG data.  Here are few of those that have received the most attention:

Theory

Why It Might Work

Issues and Concerns

Machine Learning

Natural Language Processing can look for signals of ESG-related opportunities or risks. By going outside the scope of most traditional ESG data sets, these systems offer a chance to trade ahead of the market.

Only a small number of companies have frequent signals. Both false positives and false negatives are hard to identify in advance. Only a limited number of investors can use a system before its benefits would be arbitraged by the market.

Materiality

Certain ESG factors may be tied to a company’s success. An investor can combine data on these issues with traditional financial and market information to get a better long-range view of company’s future performance.

Various groups have attempted to identify which factors are material. However, their assessments disagree and there is little empirical support for any of these systems. In many cases, only a few companies report each factor. This makes it hard to do systematic research or to make consistent decisions across an entire industry.

Engagement

Invest in companies that have weak ESG performance. Engage with them to improve their policies and reporting. Benefit from the increased attractiveness of the company to other ESG-interested investors.

Companies may not respond well to pressure from investors on business-related matters. It may take several years for the benefits of ESG-related changes to take effect and be noticed. Most investors don’t have such a long-term investment horizon.

Factor Analysis

Dump ESG data into a quantitative model and uncover significant factors. Structure a portfolio to take advantage of the results.

Given the lack of data (most ESG indicators are not available for most companies) and the inconsistent way that ESG data is generated and reported, the quality of ESG data may be too poor to use in quant models. ESG factors may not be stable over time, as they are driven by social issues and current topics.

Passive

Include ESG factors in the list of things that can be used to “tilt” a portfolio. Position the resulting portfolio as attractive to groups of investors who care about a particular ESG-related theme.

The restrictions associated with tilting portfolios generate tracking errors and can increase the costs of managing the portfolio. This may cause passive ESG funds to systematically underperform their benchmarks.

Aggregation

Combine together a lot of different ESG data sources. Create a new rating that incorporates the information from the underlying sources, but has broad coverage and an improved ability to predict future market performance.

Averaging disparate sources of ESG data does not give good results. (This was tested in era 2.) A new method for aggregation is required—one such as CSRHub that uses Big Data methodologies to properly weight and combine a range of sources. The resulting ratings may not contain alpha (but could provide an estimate of consensus that could be used to generate alpha via other means).

 

It takes at least three to five years to determine if an investment approach has promise.  It takes another ten years to be sure that the approach will survive the test of market cycles and changes in market structure.  The first and second eras of ESG integration did not produce any huge winners or star funds.  The third era has many new ideas and approaches.  Even without solid academic foundations, we can hope that one or more of them turn into a mainstream path for ESG integration.

To learn more about CSRHub, our ESG/CSR metrics or how you can improve your ESG scores, contact us here.

 

 


Bahar_Gidwani-10Bahar Gidwani is CTO and Co-founder of CSRHub. Bahar has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and was one of the first people to receive the FSA (Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting) designation from SASB. Bahar worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. He has founded several technology-based companies and is a co-founder of CSRHub, the world’s broadest source of corporate social responsibility information. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub is the largest ESG and sustainability rating and information platform globally. We aggregate 230 million data points from 650+ data sources including leading ESG analyst databases. Our patented algorithm aggregates, normalizes, and weights data to rate 18,000+ companies in 141 countries across 134 industries. We track 97% of world market capitalization. We cover 12 subcategories of ratings and rankings across the categories of environment, employees, community and governance. We show underlying data sources that contribute to each subcategory’s ratings. CSRHub metrics are a consensus view (any 2 sources may have about a 30% correlation so we make sense of the disparate data). We tag companies for their involvement in 17 Special Issues. We provide Macro-enabled Excel dashboard templates, customizable dashboards, and an API. Our big data technology enables 85% full coverage of data across our rated companies and robust analyses. We provide historical ratings back to 2008.

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Does Bigger Mean Better?

[fa icon="calendar'] May 22, 2019 9:58:43 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

Do bigger companies get better ESG ratings than small ones?  We believe the answer is “no.”  This seems true across a wide range of companies, whether one measures size by revenue or by market capitalization (a proxy for enterprise value).  Our result indicates that small companies can and should expect to be able to equal or outperform their bigger rivals on environment, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

A comparison of charts from our new Bloomberg app (ESGHub) indicates that big companies disclose more information than small ones.  The chart on the left shows the distribution of disclosure for the S&P 500 Index.  There is a wide dispersion of disclosure profiles (as measured by Bloomberg’s ESG Metrics on the bottom axis) and CSRHub’s consensus ESG rating (as shown on the vertical axis).  The chart on the right shows about 1,500 companies from the NASDAQ 3,000.  There are some companies spread out on the right.  However, many companies are clustered to the left with low disclosure scores.

S&P 500 Index vs NASDAQ 3000

Even though the smaller companies are hard to distinguish based on their disclosure, they do separate on the vertical axis (aggregate ESG rating).  The left-right distinction does not appear to be related to size.  As you can see below, larger companies have only a small tendency towards higher disclosure ratings from Bloomberg.

 

Low Correlation Bloomberg ESG Metrics Disclosure Score and Revenue 

The aggregate ESG ratings from CSRHub also do not appear to be driven by either revenue (left chart below) or market capitalization (right chart below).  This pattern has been stable for at least the past five years.  One theory is that the sustainability story of smaller companies may be simpler and easier to tell than those for large ones.  Smaller companies may also appear more credible on ESG issues, due to cultural biases against “big business.”

 

No Correlation Overall CSRHub and market cap2 

 

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Bahar_Gidwani-10Bahar Gidwani is CTO and Co-founder of CSRHub. Bahar has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and was one of the first people to receive the FSA (Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting) designation from SASB. Bahar worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. He has founded several technology-based companies and is a co-founder of CSRHub, the world’s broadest source of corporate social responsibility information. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub is the largest ESG and sustainability rating and information platform globally. We aggregate 204 million data points from 634 data sources including 10 leading ESG analyst databases. Our patented algorithm aggregates, normalizes, and weights data to rate 18,000 companies in 139 countries across 134 industries. We track 97% of world market capitalization. We cover 12 subcategories of ratings and rankings across the categories of environment, employees, community and governance. We show underlying data sources that contribute to each subcategory’s ratings. CSRHub metrics are a consensus view (any 2 sources may have about a 30% correlation so we make sense of the disparate data). We tag companies for their involvement in 17 Special Issues. We provide Macro-enabled Excel dashboard templates, customizable dashboards, and an API. Our big data technology enables 85% full coverage of data across our rated companies and robust analyses. We provide historical ratings back to 2008.

 

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ESG Coverage Is Improving

[fa icon="calendar'] May 10, 2019 10:21:52 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

We recently reviewed the ESG coverage status for the 8,686 companies in the MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index).  The ACWI is a popular benchmark for many investors, because it includes approximately 85% of the global opportunities for equity investment.  We felt it would be useful to see how much ESG information is currently available on the companies on this type of broad index.

CSRHub aggregates ESG data from more than 600 sources.  Each source has a different coverage universe.  By combining these universes, we have been able to offer full or partial ratings on 18,000 companies and know that there is at least some information on another 13,000 companies.

As you can see from the table below, we have reached the point where there is CSRHub ESG data on 95% of the companies and 99% of the “weighted value” in the Index.  5,777 companies (81% of the index weight) have full CSRHub scores (overall rating and scores for Community, Employees, Environment, and Governance factors).  Another 1,116 companies (13%) have partial scores while 1,324 companies (15%) have some data, but not enough yet to allow calculation of a CSRHub rating.

MSCI All Country World Index Analysis

We do not have data on the past components for this Index.  However, we can look at the status for the current companies over the past five years.  (CSRHub data reaches back to 2008.)  As you can see below, there has been a dramatic improvement in the number of companies with ESG data over this time period.

CSRHub ESG Ratings Data More Entities

One benefit of this increase in coverage is that ESG ratings can now be extended to cover corporate bond and high-yield debt portfolios.  In a recent study of one such portfolio, we found full or partial ESG ratings in CSRHub on 1,681 of 1,789 holdings—94% coverage.  It remains difficult to put ESG scores on sovereign and municipal bond issues.  However, we have ratings now on many universities, cities, and states.  We may also be able to impute a rating for a locality, based on the ratings of the companies that are headquartered there.

One of the excuses made for not integrating ESG information into corporate or investor decision-making has been that there are too many gaps in ESG data.  It appears that the hard work of ESG sources around the world are gradually filling in these gaps so that we can create a consistent and holistic view of relative ESG performance for a wide range of entities.

 

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Bahar_Gidwani-10Bahar Gidwani is CTO and Co-founder of CSRHub. Bahar has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and was one of the first people to receive the FSA (Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting) designation from SASB. Bahar worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. He has founded several technology-based companies and is a co-founder of CSRHub, the world’s broadest source of corporate social responsibility information. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub is the largest ESG and sustainability rating and information platform globally. We aggregate 204 million data points from 634 data sources including 10 leading ESG analyst databases. Our patented algorithm aggregates, normalizes, and weights data to rate 18,000 companies in 139 countries across 134 industries. We track 97% of world market capitalization. We cover 12 subcategories of ratings and rankings across the categories of environment, employees, community and governance. We show underlying data sources that contribute to each subcategory’s ratings. CSRHub metrics are a consensus view (any 2 sources may have about a 30% correlation so we make sense of the disparate data). We tag companies for their involvement in 17 Special Issues. We provide Macro-enabled Excel dashboard templates, customizable dashboards, and an API. Our big data technology enables 85% full coverage of data across our rated companies and robust analyses. We provide historical ratings back to 2008.

 

 

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GRI Reporting’s Impact on ESG Ratings

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 13, 2018 11:18:19 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

Two years ago, the sustainability business community elected me to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Stakeholder Council (SC).  Thank you, it has been an honor to represent you.  I recently traveled to Amsterdam to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Council.  I thought our readers might like to hear some of what we discussed and learned.

One caveat.  There were parts of our discussion that are (and should be) confidential.  The SC is tasked with advising GRI’s Board on its strategy.  We also select/elect some of GRI’s Board members.  Furthermore, these represent my individual views as a GRI SC member, but I am not an official spokesperson and don’t speak on behalf of the Stakeholder Council or of the GRI. These remarks have been reviewed by SC’s GRI liaison to be sure I’m not revealing information I shouldn’t.

GRI’s Value

Virtually everyone who is involved in sustainability reporting is aware of GRI’s contribution to our field.  It is the best known and the most respected approach to reporting—and has been for many years.  We have shown that companies who use the GRI method for organizing their reporting receive better sustainability ratings.  The table below shows a recent analysis across 4,000 companies.

Ave CSRHub Ratings vs No of GRI Reports

As you can see, companies that report using the GRI approach have consistently higher ratings on CSRHub than those who don’t.  Since CSRHub’s scores include input from 565 different rating sources, there is a strong correlation between using GRI’s methods and how positively a company is seen across a wide range of different rating methodologies.  Note that reporting only every other year is associated with less improvement.  One of the things we discussed at the SC meeting was that some companies seemed to be skipping years in their reports.  Our ratings data indicates that those who report every year seem to have a ratings advantage over those who don’t.

Harmonization

One of GRI’s focus areas has been the harmonization of different ratings systems.  This is in response to a perceived fractured reporting landscape and concerns from stakeholders (especially in the investment community) for simplicity and comparability in ratings.  The chart below shows an example of the disconnect those using ratings must cope with.

Diff ESG Rating Systems

The six companies above are all large and well-studied.  The consensus view of (as measured by CSRHub) is that their sustainability performance is pretty similar.  However, the four ESG rating systems (and credit score) that we show above show a lot of variation.  Even highly experienced users of these data sets are often at a loss to explain these differences.

One of GRI’s responses to these concerns has been to participate in the Corporate Reporting Dialog.  “The Dialog,” as it is known, is supported by seven ratings and standards-setting groups, including CDP, SASB, and Integrated Reporting.  GRI would like to become the “IFRS of ESG.”  Take a look at the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) site, if you haven’t before (they are also a supporter of the Dialog) and you will see where GRI is heading.

What’s Next?

GRI is working on a number of new Standards. These will be released through the Global Sustainability Standard Board (GSSB) process.  There is a hope that more Standards can be released over the next year, than over the past.  GRI has built up its staff in the area and they are clear on their priorities.

Expect a continuation of the working sessions in 2019 for GRI Community members (formerly known as the GRI GOLD community).  There will be several meetings on corporate reporting, on integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into reporting, and on how best to organize digital reporting.

Please feel free to send me comments, suggestions, and advice that may help GRI continue to be successful.  I have one more year in my current term and would like to serve you, my constituents, well.

  


Bahar_Gidwani-10Bahar Gidwani has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and was one of the first people to receive the FSA (Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting) designation from SASB. Bahar worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. He has founded several technology-based companies and is a co-founder of CSRHub, the world’s broadest source of corporate social responsibility information. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City

CSRHub is the largest ESG and sustainability rating and information platform globally. We aggregate 180M data points from 550+ data sources including 12 leading ESG analyst databases. Our patented algorithm aggregates, normalizes, and weights data to rate 18,000 companies in 132 countries across 136 industries. We track 97% of world market capitalization. We cover 12 subcategories of ratings and rankings across the categories of environment, employees, community and governance. We show underlying data sources that contribute to each subcategory’s ratings. CSRHub metrics are a consensus view (any 2 sources may have about a 30% correlation so we make sense of the disparate data). We tag companies for their involvement in 17 Special Issues. We provide Macro-enabled Excel dashboard templates, customizable dashboards, and an API. Our big data technology enables 85% full coverage of data across our rated companies and robust analyses. We provide historical ratings back to 2008.

 

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CSRHub - What's Changed After Ten Years of CSR Ratings: Part Two

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 8, 2018 9:12:11 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

Part 2 of a 2-part series.

In 2008 CSRHub began measuring performance in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Using ten years of history, we are now starting to answer questions such as: 

  • Has CSR performance improved over time?
  • What area of CSR is improving the most?
  • Is the universe of companies for which ratings are available expanding beyond the large public corporations?
  • How strong is the alignment between CSR performance and company CSR reporting on CSR?

 

More Data on More Companies

A dramatic increase in ratings sources beyond Wall Street-driven and research companies has expanded the field of companies for which ratings can be developed.  For example, the number of companies and other entities studied by CSRHub has increased from 2,000 in 2008 to 18,000 in 2018. In 2008, the major sources of data were the analyst research houses which covered only large public companies. While this data produces rich consistent opinion matrices and remains a vital component of the CSRHub system, other crowd sources, not-for-profit groups, publications, and government regulators helped expand the covered universe to include smaller companies, not-for-profit organizations, and government entities.

 CSRHub Uncover Ratings

 

Still a Disconnect Between Reporting and Performance

One of the reasons we developed CSRHub was because we felt there was a disconnect between reporting (what companies said about themselves) and performance (what companies actually do).  We could not find a way to pierce the veil and determine performance directly.  This is why we created a proxy based on the aggregate opinion of how a company is performing on ESG (environment, social, governance) issues, from a wide range of expert sources.  Our scores build a feedback loop so that companies can see how their performance and reporting are perceived.  We hope they will use this feedback to improve both the truth about their corporate social behavior and what they tell their stakeholders about themselves.

We recently launched a new tool in partnership with Bloomberg that illustrates clearly that reporting and performance are still only loosely related.  The chart below shows for the S&P 100 a measure of disclosure (the horizontal axis is the percent of Bloomberg’s 900 sustainability indicators that have been captured for each company) against a measure of perceived sustainability performance (CSRHub’s overall rating).  The correlation between these measures is only 28%.  This indicates that there must be other “explanatory variables” that drive how a company’s ESG performance is perceived, besides the extent of its sustainability disclosures.

 ESGHub

 

Looking Ahead at CSR Trends

We don’t expect to see many major new analyst-driven sources of ESG data emerge.  It is expensive and time-consuming to use human analysts to review and weigh a company’s sustainability performance.  We’ve seen new data sets that are driven by news reports, tweets, or other bottoms up evidence.  These sets are interesting, but we have not seen much correlation between them and the many other sources we review.  There are many new sources of data coming from not-for-profit groups—especially those who have focused on supply chain issues.  We also expect government-regulation-driven disclosures to expose more small and mid-size companies—especially in Europe and parts of Asia.

Our big data-driven system seems to be working well and producing useful insights into the relative sustainability performance of thousands of companies.  We plan to continue growing our coverage and tying the signals from our data to tools that can be used by companies, analysts, activists and researchers around the world.

With the exception of the still-broad gap between disclosure and performance metrics, CSR has moved forward over the last ten years.  CSRHub will continue to track the change in emphasis on core issues and incorporate new data sets as they emerge. What gets measured – and reported – is what gets implemented.  We’ll keep working to help keep CSR moving forward for the next ten years.

 

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Bahar_Gidwani-10Bahar Gidwani has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and was one of the first people to receive the FSA (Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting) designation from SASB. Bahar worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. He has founded several technology-based companies and is a co-founder of CSRHub, the world’s broadest source of corporate social responsibility information. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub is the largest ESG and sustainability rating and information platform globally. We aggregate 180M data points from 550+ data sources including 12 leading ESG analyst databases. Our patented algorithm aggregates, normalizes, and weights data to rate 18,000 companies in 132 countries across 136 industries. We track 97% of world market capitalization. We cover 12 subcategories of ratings and rankings across the categories of environment, employees, community and governance. We show underlying data sources that contribute to each subcategory’s ratings. CSRHub metrics are a consensus view (any 2 sources may have about a 30% correlation so we make sense of the disparate data). We tag companies for their involvement in 17 Special Issues. We provide Macro-enabled Excel dashboard templates, customizable dashboards, and an API. Our big data technology enables 85% full coverage of data across our rated companies and robust analyses. We provide historical ratings back to 2008.

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