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Which type of investor are you?
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2021 global institutional investor study

Think EQuilibrium 

Download survey results
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Introducing Nuveen's inaugural 2021 global institutional investor study

Welcome to EQuilibrium

This new, annual global research explores the drivers of investor behavior and their impact on people, portfolios and problem-solving, with a particular focus on alternatives, responsible investing and the human side of asset management. We also look at the beliefs, mindsets and priorities that inform those drivers. 

Our inaugural research in late 2020 captured the accelerated evolution of trends and mindsets that are redefining the investment landscape. We invite you to join us, as we explore how this evolution is shaping investor views and influencing intended actions in the coming year. 
About the survey
Nuveen and CoreData surveyed 700 global investors and consultants spanning North America (NORAM); Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA); and Asia Pacific (APAC) in October and November 2020. We also conducted 16 qualitative interviews. Respondents were decision-makers at corporate pensions, public/governmental pensions, insurance companies, endowments and foundations, superannuation funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and consultants. Survey respondents represented organizations with assets of more than $10B (55%) and less than $10B (45%), with a minimum asset level of $500M. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4% at a 95% confidence level.

Download the interactive global investor study
EQuilibrium: Bringing a balanced view and clarity to the complex decisions institutional investors face

Our research revealed critical insights into how investors are supporting their people, evolving their investment portfolios and solving problems to achieve their missions as fiduciaries and stewards of global capital.
58 percent of asset owners aren’t planning to enhance D&I practices or don’t know if their organizations will do so
Exploring human factors influencing investor experiences 
Virtual working has positively affected productivity and engagement, while negatively affecting employee well-being. How will that transform the future of work, and how are companies addressing diversity and inclusion — or are they? Our research suggests more action is needed. 

55 percent are planning a strategic shift away from public to private markets
Tracking evolving approaches and strategic shifts 
Use of alternatives continues to grow; meanwhile, strategic shifts are shaping how investors approach ESG and private markets. What factors are driving allocation changes?

5  factors Investors identified as critical drivers of achieving the ESG dream state — including validating ESG as an return driver
Understanding how beliefs and barriers are driving actions 
Investors have differing views on the use of alternatives and visions of the ESG dream state. Investors reveal strategic and operational changes that they are making. What are the characteristics that drive different types of investors?

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Exploring human factors influencing investor experiences: How the pandemic is changing the future of work

Investors have been able to effectively navigate the challenges of working virtually and managing assets during the pandemic. While these changes have been mostly positive, will they be enduring? The future is unclear, but learnings will likely forever change the way investors work.

Impact of working virtually in 2020
Q: Please review the following statements relating to the pandemic and your work. Choose the statement that most closely aligns with your perspective. Includes all 700 respondents.
Virtual vs. in-person: Split perspectives create opportunity to reframe the future

The future of face-to-face meetings is likely to change, transitioning to a combination of virtual and in-person meetings. This creates an opportunity for investors to redefine how they engage with their peers and partners — and how they derive value from relationships. As asset owners and consultants navigate this changing landscape, they will discover new opportunities for partnership on stakeholder education, problem solving, investment insight, transparency and other areas of focus.

Virtual vs. in-person
Q: Please review the following statements relating to the pandemic and your work. Choose the statement that most closely aligns with your perspective. Includes all 700 respondents.

Diversity and inclusion change requires engagement, not just intention


Creating a more diverse and inclusive investment industry requires awareness and engagement across all levels of an organization.
Is the commitment to change real?

Despite all the attention that diversity and including (D&I) receives, only 44% of survey respondents report that their organizations plan to enhance D&I efforts in the coming year. Nearly 60% of asset owners answered "No" or "I don't know." So, is the commitment to D&I real?

Organizations planning on enhancing D&I practices in the next 12 months 
Q. In the coming 12 months, is your organization planning to enhance its diversity and inclusion practices? Includes all 700 respondents.
Planned D&I changes

Organizations planning to take action are focused on talent management, as well as improving diversity among decision-making bodies and increasing accountability. But it is worth noting that they aren’t tying progress to executive compensation.

Planned D&I changes
Q. When you look out to the next 12 months, select the actions your organization plans to take relating to its diversity and inclusion practices. 306 respondents taking action.

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From tactical to strategic: Understanding the shift to private markets

With nearly 92% of survey respondents either currently investing in alternatives or planning to do so in the next year, these asset classes are playing an increasingly critical role in portfolios amid the search for return, diversification and risk mitigation.

Examining the beliefs behind increasing allocations reveals a critical insight about investors’ use of private investments: No longer is it a tactical allocation, but an intentional, strategic shift in approach.
Allocations to alternatives and intended increases

The five alternative asset classes that investors are most likely to be invested in currently are also the ones that investors are most likely to increase their allocations to in the coming year.

Allocations to alternatives 
Q: Please select the alternative investments you are currently allocated to and which alternatives you plan to increase allocations to in the next 12 months. Respondents include 545 asset owners and OCIOs investing in alternatives.

Acknowledged that they plan to make a strategic shift away from public to private markets in the next 12 months

55 percent
Q: Please indicate how likely it is that your organization (or your clients), plan to make a strategic shift away from public to private markets in the next 12 months. Respondents include 591 asset owners or OCIOs investing in or advising on alternatives.

Believe allocations to alternatives and private investments will increase because they deliver better returns than public investments

48 percent
Q: Indicate your organization’s level of agreement or disagreement with the view “we believe allocations to alternatives and private investments will increase because they consistently deliver better returns than public investments.” Includes all 700 respondents.

Where investors have clarity — or indecision — in their pursuit of idiosyncratic value


The strategic shift from public to private markets requires investors to make critical decisions about how they approach these asset classes. 

In some areas — including the preference for proven managers and not relying on consultants — investors’ actions are guided by high levels of conviction. But in others — such as the preference of specialist managers vs. multi-managers — there is a lack of clarity.

Survey results for approach toward asset classes

Q: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements about your organization’s overall approach to alternative investing (or on behalf of your clients for consultants). Respondents include 591 asset owners or consultants investing in or advising on alternatives.

Values drive ESG integration more than risk and return


Organizational values and social responsibility are overwhelmingly the primary driver of ESG integration across investor types and regions.  
Are we having the wrong conversation? 

Our research suggests the need for a more holistic conversation about ESG investing, one that focuses on the interconnection of values and investment factors. 

Asset owners and consultants can shape these conversations to ensure they start with what is important to their organization or their investors, whether that be values and social responsibility or other factors that align to their organization’s approach to ESG integration. 

Chart showing organizational values/sense of social responsibility
Q: Which of the following is the primary driver for integrating ESG factors into your organization’s investment strategy/in your investment strategy? (select 1). Includes all 700 respondents.

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Evolution of alternatives drives strategic investment and operational change

Investors are actively taking new steps to harness the idiosyncratic value of alternatives as the evolution of the space accelerates.

Strategic vs Operational planned actions 


Q: Please indicate how likely it is that your organization/your organization, on behalf of your clients, will pursue any of the following actions in the next 12 months concerning alternative investing. Respondents include 591 asset owners or OCIOs investing/advising on alternatives. (% likely + highly likely)

The four types of alternatives investors


By exploring investors’ beliefs, approaches and planned actions, we identified four distinct types of alternative investors. Understanding how investors form their beliefs and translate them into action can foster a more strategic approach to portfolio construction. 

Turning these insights into action: We urge investors to explore these varying perspectives on alternatives to gain a better understanding of how they influence strategic and operational actions among their investment teams and committees. This should lead to more open, productive conversations, enhanced alignment and stronger decision making and investment policy statements.
The four types of alternatives investors 
Download the full study to explore detailed insights on each of the four investor types.

ESG dream state: Achieving internal alignment and quantifying investment outcomes and impact


While ESG is clearly more than just a trend, major work needs to be done to advance the discipline to a place where it can adequately address investors’ goals for both social impact and investment outcomes. Survey respondents identified the most important areas where progress needs to be made to achieve the dream state for ESG investing—as well as barriers that need to be overcome.

Chart: ESG dream state

Q: Please review the statements below and indicate their level of importance to supporting your organization’s/your vision of a future ESG dream state. Top five out of nine. Includes all 700 respondents.

The top three barriers to future ESG dream state

The top three barriers to future ESG dream state 
Q: Which of the following are barriers that may prevent the realization of the future ESG dream state? (check all that apply). Includes all 700 respondents.

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Explore the beliefs shaping the future of investing

Whether achieving true diversity and inclusion, developing new approaches to alternatives amid the strategic shift to private markets or turning the ESG dream state into reality, asset owners and consultants are navigating complex, high-stakes decisions that are defining the future of investing.

Only by understanding the beliefs and mindsets that are leading to action in each of these areas can the global investment community strengthen its people, portfolios and problem-solving with clarity and conviction.

Through our daily interactions with investors globally, as well as through future EQuilibrium surveys, we will continue to explore these critical topics.

To learn more about our views on the insights uncovered by this year’s survey, contact your Nuveen relationship manager.

About the survey
Nuveen and CoreData surveyed 700 global investors and consultants spanning North America (NORAM); Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA); and Asia Pacific (APAC) in October and November 2020. We also conducted 16 qualitative interviews. Respondents were decision-makers at corporate pensions, public/governmental pensions, insurance companies, endowments and foundations, superannuation funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and consultants. Survey respondents represented organizations with assets of more than $10B (55%) and less than $10B (45%), with a minimum asset level of $500M. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4% at a 95% confidence level.

Download now

EQuilibrium webinar

Join us as we explore more key findings including from the study, the priorities that are informing the investment decision making process and the opportunities for institutional investors.

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