Hedge Fund Managers Search for Alpha in Big Data

If the world’s annual data generation was loaded into iPad Air tablets, says a recent Financial Times article, “the pile would reach from the earth to the moon more than six times over.”

Technology companies can harvest information from consumer emails and online receipts which can then be “scraped, aggregated and sold to investment firms looking for tradable signals, or to use the jargon—’market-beating alpha’.”

However, the article explains, “The investment industry’s push into alternative data raises some potentially awkward questions.” Even though the data is supposedly “scrubbed” of any personal consumer information, the standards “are far from uniform” which raises concerns for money managers. Wesley Chan, director of stock selection research at Boston-based Acadian Asset Management, says, “The data vendors claim to anonymise the data through aggregation, but it doesn’t always work perfectly.”

Tammer Kamel, co-founder and chief executive of Quandl, a US alternative data provider is “obsessed” about scrubbing off personal information and says there is a “healthy paranoia” among the company’s clients about the issue. “No one wants to be on the wrong side of this,” he says, adding, “one fiasco in this space and the consequences for a fund would be dire.”

As long as safeguards are in place, the collection and sale of such data is legal in most countries although, Chan argues, “at some point there will have to be some sort of bill of rights to control it. This will continue until there’s a scandal, which is likely to happen.”

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