Singapore’s GIC is moving to change how its data science team operates with the aim of integrating such practices more closely into its business and investment processes, said sources familiar with the sovereign wealth fund on condition of anonymity.

Sybor Wang is understood to have joined as head of data science at GIC in November last year from US fund house BlackRock’s San Francisco office, where he was director of research, according to his LinkedIn page. He could not be reached for confirmation or comment, and GIC declined to comment, while BlackRock did not respond to an emailed query.

The government fund's plan is to arrange the structure so that the data science team can interact more closely and effectively with other parts of the organisation, sources told AsianInvestor.

Sybor Wang: 

GIC has tended to second data science experts to work with other divisions on a temporary basis. It is understood that the fund now aims to develop projects as more of a team effort whereby data science works closely with other departments.

GIC’s data science team is now four-strong, said one source on condition of anonymity.

Wang had replaced Swara Mehta, who left in April last year to join payment platform provider Stripe as a data science manager, according to her LinkedIn page. Lead data scientist Lily Rachmawati also left GIC, in late 2020, to join Citi as head of data science in Singapore in January last year.

RISING SPEND

Data science – gleaning insights from structured and unstructured data using approaches ranging from statistical analysis to machine learning – is a nascent but growing area of focus in the investment industry. It is a cutting-edge area of technology where fund managers and the larger and more sophisticated asset owners are increasing their spend. 

And it is no surprise that GIC should be at the leading edge of this trend given how active it is in technology investing. Alongside fellow Singaporean state investor Temasek, it regularly leads the count in terms of tech deals done worldwide by sovereign wealth and pension funds.

As is often the case with new technologies or techniques, however, it often takes time for established areas of a business to understand and accept the potential benefits on offer from data science.

Asset managers such as BlackRock are putting increasing resources into data science and analytics with a view to helping their teams and clients make better investment decisions. They can sell such expertise as part of their systems and expertise.

Asset owners are generally not as far advanced in this area because they cannot monetise it through a client base in the same way. Still, some have been ramping up spending on data management and predictive analysis in recent years in order to improve returns and win deals even when bidding less than rivals.

A case in point: a Southeast Asian sovereign wealth fund won a bid for a shopping mall last year by offering roughly 80% of the asking price, despite there being a 95% bid on the table. The example was cited in August last year by Oliver Johnson, Asia Pacific head of software vendor SimCorp, who declined to provide the institution's name.

“Ultimately, the seller felt the sovereign fund would bring a lot more value to the business, given how it had analysed the deal,” Johnson told AsianInvestor. “The fund [had run] its DCF [discounted cash flow] models on the asset and came up with a price. Then they looked at it slightly differently using alternative data.”

This story has been updated to indicate that GIC declined to comment and BlackRock did not respond to an emailed request for comment.