Artificial intelligence as a driver for responsible investment

29 November 2023 by National Bank Investments
Silhouette of a man’s head where we see icons representing the environment and society.

Artificial intelligence can be a driving force behind portfolio managers' responsible investment practices. Here's how some of them are putting it to practical use, along with the challenges and opportunities that come with the growing use of these technologies.

A growing number of investment professionals believe that integrating ESG (environmental, social and governance) criteria into their decision-making process enables them to maximize the risk/return ratio. However, due to the absence of standardization, or sometimes the lack of available data, getting an accurate and comprehensive picture of the true value of ESG risk management within a company remains a challenge.

The lack of reliable data is one of the main obstacles to the growth of responsible investment, according to industry players¹.

Artificial intelligence and responsible investment: what’s the link?

This is where the use of artificial intelligence (AI) can prove advantageous. AI encompasses a range of emerging technologies that have made it possible to automate complex tasks at speeds and volumes never reached. This new reality is transforming the way companies can use and process data.

For portfolio managers investing in these companies, AI represents a valuable decision-making tool. Let’s look at how some of our open architecture partners are leveraging AI to enhance their responsible investment (RI) activities.

Searching for trends in conversations with AI

A significant part of artificial intelligence’s potential stems from Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms. These algorithms can detect perceptions, track emerging trends, and identify controversies surrounding companies.

For example, some of our portfolio managers use the services of firms that analyze communications from hundreds of thousands of public sources that can capture, in multiple languages, stakeholder conversations around companies.

This enables them to determine whether companies are consistent in their disclosure of issues such as human rights, labour standards, or their environmental commitments.

The case of Manulife Investment Management

In the past, Manulife’s responsible investment analysts mainly examined around ten sources of information when evaluating a company. Today, they have access to thousands of reports published by various organizations, as well as millions of ESG data points available in the public sphere.

The more they delve into the subject of artificial intelligence, the more they realize that it has an amplifying effect on ESG risks and opportunities.

The example of the restaurant industry

If we take the example of a company in the restaurant industry, artificial intelligence can be beneficial by taking over repetitive tasks such as taking customer orders. Employees can then concentrate on tasks that add greater value to the business.

In addition, more accurate and personalized order taking could lead to a reduction in food waste as well as an increase in customer satisfaction.

However, as some jobs are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence, employees’ concerns could lead to work disruptions or conflicts.

Watch the full interview with David Ung, Director, Sustainable Investing at Manulife Investment Management.

AI’s contribution to the growth of spatial finance

Artificial intelligence models are also capable of analyzing ESG-related risks from a geospatial perspective.

By using a wide range of terrestrial and geographical data, it is possible to identify location-specific climate risks and related opportunities. For example, these models can predict sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and temperature trends.

By cross-referencing this information with the geographical location of their assets or supply chain, investment professionals can make decisions such as reallocating capital to more resilient areas or protecting existing assets by investing in adaptation measures.

Nuveen use case: using spatial data to manage groundwater in California

In California, where many of the tree nuts are grown in the US , water availability is capital because of how dry the climate is.

Nuveen Natural Capital (NNC) use spatial data analysis to identify potential water recharge facilities. A water recharge facility is a reserve of water put back into the ground in drier seasons or monetized in the form of credits.

NNC can identify new opportunities in the portfolio to add additional recharge facilities and better understand how close existing assets are to water infrastructure. It also helps NNC develop key biodiversity baselines. As markets for biodiversity credits continue to materialize, the portfolio can participate in biodiversity and wetland restoration projects.

Watch the full interview with Joseph Villani, Senior Portfolio Manager, at Nuveen Natural Capital.

AI to measure positive impact

The use of AI is not limited to risk management; it can also be valuable in identifying and selecting companies with a positive impact on the world. For instance, portfolio managers could harness AI to align their investments with a theme or desired outcomes.

These technologies, while still new, should provide greater transparency as to how issuers’ operations, products and services contribute to solving global issues.

AI as a competitive advantage and its limits

By integrating artificial intelligence capabilities, investment professionals benefit from a more accurate collection and analysis of the abundant information available. This puts them in a favorable position when it comes to making investment decisions.

While AI can facilitate access to essential data for risk management and sustainable investment research, its impact on climate also proves a challenge. Some models have a significant carbon footprint, and most major AI players refuse to disclose the emissions associated with their models. Fortunately, many scientists are now addressing the issue. The benefits of using AI in a climate context must outweigh the pollution it generates if it is to make a positive contribution to environmental issues.

Legal notes

The information and the data supplied in the present document, including those supplied by third parties, are considered accurate at the time of their printing and were obtained from sources which we considered reliable. We reserve the right to modify them without advance notice. This information and data are supplied as informative content only. No representation or guarantee, explicit or implicit, is made as for the exactness, the quality and the complete character of this information and these data. The opinions expressed are not to be construed as solicitation or offer to buy or sell shares mentioned herein and should not be considered as recommendations.

© 2023 National Bank Investments Inc. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the prior written consent of National Bank Investments Inc.

® NATIONAL BANK INVESTMENTS is a registered trademark of National Bank of Canada, used under licence by National Bank Investments Inc.

National Bank Investments is a signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, a member of Canada’s Responsible Investment Association, and a founding participant in the Climate Engagement Canada initiative.


Investor Education

 Get informed with investor education content.


Learn more