The Quest to Quantify Investing's Culture

After decades of study, the firm Willis Towers Watson has built a framework to quantify corporate culture that includes more than 20 factors, according to a recent article in Institutional Investor. “In practice,” the article says, “it means interrogating organizations the same way consultants have always interrogated track records.”

Nimish Srivastava, the firm’s global head of credit, meets with scads of asset managers annually, the article reports, “trying to determine who’s worthy of WTW’s clientele.” In a phone interview with Institutional Investor, Srivastava said, “We’ve noticed, over the years, that we began to attribute more and more of managers’ success or failure to culture,” adding, “We now spend more time interviewing people across levels.”

WTW also uses a set of quantitative metrics that indicate cultural health, “which in turn helps predict future performance.” The article notes that WTW looks at employee retention statistics as well as turnover by gender.

“WTW is not the only firm to have recognized the value—and inherent difficulty—of quantifying culture,” the article says, adding that investment executives have been able to “skate on cultural issues for a long time, but the market is—very slowly—developing mechanisms to hold them to account.”

Srivastava says, “In an environment where the markets are doing really well, it’s easy to disguise poor culture, because frankly it’s easy for managers to make money. In the last couple of years with more volatility, we’ve seen that managers’ cultures can make all the difference.”