By James A. Kaplan
Over the past year, GMI Ratings reached significant product-development milestones that have reinforced the firm’s leadership in environmental, social, governance (ESG) and forensic accounting research. The latest enhancements have made GMI Analyst, our flagship research platform, much more broadly relevant to all the market segments we serve. In particular, I’ll highlight five important aspects of our portfolio of products and services.
1. Robust Analytical Functionality — Approximately two months ago, we launched an enhanced version of GMI Analyst. The platform now provides 1) ESG sector ratings, 2) peer-group comparisons reflecting market cap proximity, 3) historical ESG rating graphs, 4) new search and download tools, and 5) data on each rating component’s impact on scoring. The feedback we’ve received so far strongly suggests that these enhancements have made GMI Analyst a much more valuable tool, particularly for industry-focused research.
2. Broad Market Coverage — More recently, our clients have probably noticed that GMI Analyst now provides ESG coverage of more than 6,000 companies in developed and emerging markets worldwide, and our forensic accounting model (AGR®) covers more than 18,000 companies. These numbers represent a major competitive distinction for GMI Ratings. Importantly, we expect to add another 500 companies to the ESG model by the end of this year. Most of these additions are based on requests from clients and prospective clients.
We’re certainly proud of the enhancements we’ve introduced. However, setting aside GMI’s competitive differentiation, we do not overlook the larger significance of the breadth of our market coverage. We see breadth of coverage (by GMI as well as our competitors) as an important catalyst for the broader integration of this research into mainstream risk modeling. Market participants understandably find it difficult to integrate ESG (or any other type of research, for that matter) if the research does not cover major market indices worldwide. Of course, broad market and industry coverage matters not only to passive indexed portfolios, but also to active managers assessing risks and opportunities across geographic regions and economic sectors.
3. Depth of Company-specific Research — GMI has always understood that, in addition to ratings, our clients need:
- Access to underlying data
- Comparative analysis across peer groups and industries
- Clear distinctions between material risks and marginal concerns
- Rigorous statistical assessments of the relationship between specific risk metrics and issuer performance characteristics
We recognize that consumers of ESG research are not a monolithic group. They include compliance-minded managers and a growing number of institutions working to take ESG integration to the next level, to turn it into a substantive addition to their analytical arsenal for generating risk-adjusted returns. Our goal is to maintain a product portfolio that addresses the needs of all institutions, regardless of how extensively, deeply or quickly they want to integrate ESG.
With this goal in mind, we use investment relevance as the organizing principle for the selection, relative weighting and general algorithmic treatment of specific risk metrics. GMI was founded by active investors, and our approach has always focused more on value creation than on social norms. We are providing value-focused plug-and-play analytics designed to increase investors’ level of confidence in whatever fundamental research methodology they employ. We are broadening the investment community’s sphere of understanding by identifying non-traditional variables and rigorously assessing their possible relationship with material changes in security valuations.
In the next month, we plan to announce targeted enhancements to the list of key metrics which form the backbone of our ESG model. First, we will add several material metrics to the environmental and social categories. Second, the governance (“G”) component of our ESG model will soon include some metrics from our AGR® model, which gauges the reliability of reported financials. We see the integrity of accounting practices as an important aspect of good governance. To us, this idea is an inescapable conclusion based on some of the most memorable events in capital markets since the turn of the century.
4. Real-time Event-driven Updates — We have always understood the limitations of ESG ratings updated based on annual filings. In order for extra-financial research to live up to its potential as an enabler of better decisions, it needs to be timely, and it needs to reflect the impact of events that materially alter issuer risk profiles. This conviction underlies:
- GMI Analyst features such as Watch Lists and event alerts
- Weekly Event Alerts for Responsible Investors
- Company-specific Ratings Watch reports
- RiskLink, a software add-in for Microsoft Excel that dynamically updates AGR ratings, risk model probabilities and many other data fields in Excel worksheets. RiskLink makes it easier to integrate GMI data into existing analytic tools in real time.
- Reports on emerging trends in executive compensation, diversity on boards, accounting practices, shareholder activism, etc.
5. Custom Research and Client Support — Data never speaks for itself. It only comes to life and makes a difference through the process of interpretation and thoughtful application. That’s why, client support is an essential part of every GMI product and service. We encourage all clients to work with our senior analysts to identify and address unique challenges, to think collaboratively and creatively about ways to extract value from data.
Our custom research and consulting practice is growing under the leadership of Kimberly Gladman (CFA, Ph.D.), our Director of Research and Risk Analytics. Recent and current projects in this area include:
- Client portfolio analysis designed to identify 1) ESG leaders/laggards, 2) Prevalence and distribution of specific risk metrics, 3) Holdings with the highest risk of underperformance
- Consultation on corporate engagement strategies
- Trend analysis and consultation on governance structures and practices in specific regions and industries
- Customized applications of GMI Ratings’ data to support decisions about stock selection and rejection, portfolio management and benchmarking
In Conclusion — With the recent product enhancements, we believe we have made it much easier for clients to reap the value of our research. ESG and AGR are no longer just good ideas. They are also products thoughtfully designed for seamless integration into our clients’ analytical processes.
Needless to say, these improvements did not arise in a vacuum. They are an outcome of our ongoing dialog and collaboration with clients and subject-matter experts. Indeed, we think of clients and friends of the firm as co-creators of our products, as partners in moving modern finance toward a more sustainable foundation. We are grateful for the thoughtful input we receive, and we continue to welcome your ideas.