Big data: seeing investments in an entirely new way

How ESG data may help enhance long-term value and manage downside risk

Mar 22, 2019 @ 12:01 am

Across American society, big data is shining a brilliant light on previously obscure relationships. Marketers use people's web searches and purchase histories to offer up their most irresistible offers. Political campaigns transform ages, education levels and zip codes into targeted messages that aim to boost support at the ballot box.

Data of every kind allow us to see and measure all aspects of our lives — including how people invest. At the same time, our ability to crunch and curate vast amounts of environmental, social and governance data is helping us see investment opportunities in an entirely new light. In fact, we just celebrated the internal launch of Nuveen's ESG Data Refinery — one of the first big-data ESG technology platforms to enable more informed investment decision-making using our 50 years of intellectual capital.

We are big believers in big data's ability to demonstrate how good ESG practices may help performance, while managing risk and generating positive outcomes for society. Our investment and data science teams seek to uncover investment opportunities using big data in multiple asset classes.

Public equities

ESG information may provide an investment edge

As the old adage goes, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Traditional valuation models like discounted cash flow can help assess financial risks, but they often fail to capture the complete picture. Intangible assets — which are impacted by financially material ESG risks and opportunities — now compose as much as 87% of the market value of the S&P 500.1 Using alternative data sets such as material ESG factors allows us to detect otherwise underappreciated opportunities for increasing alpha, as well as underestimated risks.

Processing data with Natural Language Processing (NLP)

The most up-to-date information on most companies tends to be the news — this is true for information regarding financial data as well as information about ESG issues. While the news may not cover all issues, it is the most expedient source. NLP, a branch of artificial intelligence, allows machines to interpret human language, and in this context allows investors to gain insight from hundreds, if not thousands, of news releases. For quants, this is a fruitful area to explore as it speeds up the availability of information. For fundamental investors, this would make a powerful complementary tool. Some specialized ESG data organizations have already made headway into this area.

Public fixed income

New frontier in ESG analysis shines a new light on municipal bond valuations

Big data is also revolutionizing how we assess opportunities in the municipal bond market by uncovering relevant ESG metrics that can help sharpen our view of risk. Two seemingly identical cities with the same credit quality may suddenly reveal stark differences when we apply our proprietary analysis using FBI crime data, EPA climate data, housing affordability data and more. Our sophisticated head-to-head comparisons draw on extensive data sources to identify ESG leaders who have the potential to deliver sustainable value relative to their competitor groups.

Two seemingly identical cities with the same credit quality may suddenly reveal stark differences with ESG big data analysis

Real assets/private markets

Data-fueled insights may help drive farmland performance, address risk factors

When it comes to investing in real assets — farmland, timber, energy and infrastructure — sustainability is essential for assessing risk and preserving long-term value. Where does big data come in? As just one example, we engage technology and data analysis in our due diligence for land purchases. We combine data from satellite imagery to understand historical land-use patterns, while matching it to government global-positioning-system data used to substantiate land claims. This is particularly important in regions where we must adhere to regulatory frameworks that promote zero deforestation and sustainable agriculture.

Real estate

Big data is the future of investment and asset management

Improving the sustainable performance of real estate may improve the attractiveness of the asset, helps keep service charges lower and reduces operational costs for occupiers. Energy efficiency is a critical factor, which is why we seek to reduce the energy intensity of our real estate equity portfolio by 30% by 2030. Big-data analysis techniques are assisting us with this effort by helping us measure energy efficiency across a broad range of properties. We also are able to see relative performance of assets when it comes to water usage and other factors.

1 Ocean Tomo LLC, 2018

Read our in-depth analysis

By applying big data to big investments with an ESG lens, we can see potential advantages for both performance and risk management.

This material is not intended to be a recommendation or investment advice, does not constitute a solicitation to buy, sell, or hold a security or an investment strategy, and is not provided in a fiduciary capacity. The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives or circumstances of any particular investor, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made based on an investor's objectives and circumstances and in consultation with his or her advisors. Investing involves risk; principal loss is possible. There is no guarantee an investment's objectives will be achieved. Nuveen provides investment advisory solutions through its investment specialists. 773917-INV-AN-03/20


What do you think?

View comments

Upcoming event

Nov 20


Future of Financial Advice

An innovative conference dedicated to improving the client experience by enhancing digital technology, mainstreaming healthcare and optimizing wealth management strategies.The Future of Financial Advice will provide a forum for... Learn more

Most watched


Young professionals see lots of opportunity to reinvent the advice experience

Members of the 2019 InvestmentNews class of 40 Under 40 have strategies to overcome the challenges of being young in a mature industry.


Young advisers envision a radically different business in five years

Fintech and sustainable investing are two factors being watched closely by some of the 2019 class of InvestmentNews' 40 Under 40.

Latest news & opinion

Target-date fund design may be wrong for retirees

Researchers suggest the funds don't adequately hedge against sequence-of-returns risk in retirement.

InvestmentNews' 2019 class of 40 Under 40

Our 40 Under 40 project, now in its sixth year, highlights young talent in the financial advice industry. These individuals illustrate the tremendous potential of those coming up in the profession. These stories will surprise, entertain, educate and inspire.

New Jersey fiduciary rule: Pressure leads to public hearing, comment deadline extension

Industry push results in chance to air grievances on July 17 and another month to present objections.

Galvin to propose fiduciary rule for Massachusetts brokers

The secretary of the commonwealth is proposing a fiduciary standard in response to an SEC investment-advice rule he views as too weak.

Summer reading recommendations from financial advisers

Here are some books that will keep you informed and entertained during summer's downtime


Hi! Glad you're here and we hope you like all the great work we do here at InvestmentNews. But what we do is expensive and is funded in part by our sponsors. So won't you show our sponsors a little love by whitelisting It'll help us continue to serve you.

Yes, show me how to whitelist

Ad blocker detected. Please whitelist us or give premium a try.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print