Abstract: Investment managers use financial numbers to assess the quality of their portfolios, which requires them to estimate the market value of their assets—i.e., the priced exchange for which such assets could be traded. Prior research has shown that investment managers are likely to disregard information that does not easily integrate into such analysis, such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. We undertook a three-year ethnography of an asset management company to better understand how investment managers respond to ESG criteria. We found that fixed-income investment managers attempted to include ESG criteria in their financial models by financializing the data, so that the information commensurated with their existing models. Equity investment managers, on the other hand, did not financialize ESG issues, but introduced the use of visuals, specifically emojis, to incarnate ESG issues, so that the equity managers could juxtapose ESG criteria with financial criteria. In doing so, they created a sense of dissonance between financial numbers and the visuals, which fostered creative friction. The equity managers were thus able to analyze the ESG criteria not only for their financial insights but also to retain some of the social and environmental information that could not be financialized. We discuss the implications of these findings for the research on financialization and calculative devices.
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