Alternative data is an interesting term—it’s different than the stalwarts of market data and reference data—but in today’s trading environment, where everyone is looking for new forms of alpha, is it really all that different? As the industry’s ability to capture and make useful insights from previously unexplored datasets improves, these are ultimately just pieces of datum that help in the investment-making process, just like a stock quote.
But not all sectors of alternative data are created equally. One area that hedge funds have tried and largely struggled to get their heads around is that of mobile phone location data. The winner of this year’s best newcomer award—Thasos Group—may have solved that problem.
“Newcomer” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to Thasos, a company that was founded in 2011 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the process of building out its models was a complex one, filled with trial and error and even a year-long stint at a hedge fund as a sort of beta partner. This year marked the year that Thasos finally went live with its offering. Thasos, which also won the best product of the year category in this year’s awards, segments that offering into three separate services called “streams”.
The first stream—ConsumerStreams—supplies daily customer visitation metrics for customers like retailers, restaurants, hotels and theme parks. MallStreams focuses on malls, outlets, shopping centers and similar properties owned by real estate investment trusts. The third is Nonconsumer and IndustrialStreams, which provides information regarding deliveries, passengers, patients and hours worked for shippers, airlines, hospitals and manufacturers. ConsumerStreams was launched in March, followed by Nonconsumer and then MallStreams.
These reports consist of real-time location data from mobile phones. The data is collected from apps providers. While phone carriers offer location data, these are only accurate to about 30-50 meters as they’re triangulated between cell towers. While Thasos is a data provider, what makes its technology unique is that it combines GPS data and Wifi triangulation, this way they can cut that distance down to seven meters or less, which allows Thasos to say with greater accuracy where a specific cellphone owner was at a specific time. The individual’s identity is also protected as the data is anonymized and aggregated.
Think about it this way—satellite and drone images provide a snapshot, but that’s about it; credit card data is useful, but what if someone uses cash or a debit card? Most people have a cellphone with apps that are connecting to wifi. For some, this alternative data is better than market data.
Rich Newman joins to talk about challenges facing the alternative data space and why open data is becoming increasingly important.Subscribe to Weekly Wrap emails