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While the pandemic has taken away many of life’s enjoyable aspects, it has forced us to slow down, reflect and think about who we are, as individuals and as a society. This is a unique and defining moment and has given us much to think and read about since we issued our last reading list.

Summer brought a slight reprieve from the grips of the pandemic, but as the weather has cooled, the sobering reality of the second wave has set in. While recent vaccine news from Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford has offered hope, distribution will be one of the greatest logistical challenges (more on this later) and “Vaccine Nationalism” may ensure distribution is unequal. This serves as a reminder that the pandemic will likely play out well in 2021 and the path to a post COVID world will be bumpy.

The US election, while chaotic and unprecedented, yielded a clear winner without major social unrest. The transition period is finally underway and the stock market has responded positively. As of late November, the S&P 500 is 7% higher than the highs set in February 2020. All indications point towards continued monetary stimulus programs by key central banks moving into 2021.

With time for societal introspection, we are seeing certain ESG trends accelerate. Recently Canada’s eight largest pension fund managers (responsible for $1.6-trillion in assets), issued a joint call for corporations to improve and standardize their ESG disclosures. The group has agreed on the best framework for ESG reporting as they look to shift behaviour within Canadian corporations. We can likely expect this trend to continue as the pandemic has put a spotlight on so many ESG issues.

On the home front, we are seeing a shift from urban centres to the suburbs and more rural areas as remote working offers new flexibility and the enjoyable benefits of living in a city temporarily fade. Real estate prices have surged in many Canadian suburbs with the hottest areas in the Greater Toronto Area being Ajax, Burlington and Brampton. Similar trends can be seen in British Columbia with real estate surging in the Sunshine Coast. It is unknown if this trend will continue in a post-vaccine world, but for the time being space means more than just square feet.

As we head into a quieter holiday season, we’ve curated our latest reading list. 2020 continues to offer plenty of thought provoking reading material. I hope you enjoy the below selection of content and wish you and your family a safe, healthy and enjoyable holiday season.

Advisor Perspectives: If Buffett Were a Fund Manager
This interesting analytical piece looks at whether Buffet would have the same confidence from investors if he were a fund manager. The article touches on one of the biggest mistakes investors make: “treating three years as a long time, five years as a very long time, and 10 years as an eternity”.

Morgan Housel: The Three Sides of Risk
Northwood Reading List favourite Morgan Housel tells a harrowing story which shaped his view of risk for life. It reminds us of the three distinct sides of risk and how one can often only be learned through experience.

Psyche: How to Have a Difficult Conversation
Adar Cohen – a conflict resolution expert and mediator – lays out the foundation for having a difficult conversation. In this thoughtful guide, Adar highlights how you can engineer a difficult conversation to reduce the amount of time spent “digging in the muck”.

Gates Notes: COVID-19 is Awful. Climate Change Could be Worse.
Bill Gates explains how it is remarkable that we are still on track to emit 92% as much carbon in 2020 as we did last year, even though activity has declined significantly. He touches on how reducing emissions is costing much more than economists consider reasonable and how climate change could be much more deadly than the pandemic in future years.

Top 5 Tax Issues for Canadians with a Biden Presidency
This articles considers the top U.S. tax issues that could affect Canadians, including potential changes to the estate tax regime, corporate and personal tax rate changes, and the potential “Tax on Wall Street” – a financial transaction tax ranging from 0.05% to 0.2% on securities transacted in the U.S.

Korea: The Impossible Country (Book)
It’s hard not to notice the rise of South Korea: global companies such as Samsung and Hyundai, the rise of Korean musicians in the west (“K-Pop”), and Korean film Parasite’s Best Picture Oscar win. The country transformed from a failed state into an economic powerhouse and leader in democracy in just 50 years. Economist writer Daniel Tudor explores the rise of South Korea and ponders if Korea will become “a rich yet aging society, devoid of momentum, as some see Japan… or experience a third miracle that will propel it into the ranks of the foremost countries in terms of human development, democracy, and wealth”.

New York Times: Four Questions to Help Demystify Your Relationship With Money
Jennifer Risher’s new book – We Need to Talk: A Memoir About Wealth – raises some key questions which this article presents to various academics and advisers. As one advisor indicates, one such question “what does living well mean to you?” typically evokes the classic superficial responses (homes, car, boats, and trips). It also then leads to people thinking about their responsibilities and how they want to be involved with their family, community and world.

Wendover Productions: Distributing the COVID Vaccine | The Greatest Logistical Challenge Ever (Video)
This 15-minute video provides a comprehensive overview of the challenges that lie ahead with distributing the COVID vaccines. The video stresses how critical it will be to create a system that orders people by need to create the most effective conditions for a strong recovery.

The Atlantic: Why Success Won’t Make You Happy
As the articles discusses, American culture valorizes overwork, which leads many to fall victim to social comparison and success addiction. But research shows this addiction strips many of real life satisfaction. One of the key elements to breaking this bad habit is changing the method of measuring success: building a life around faith, family, and friendship instead of only money, power and prestige.

Research Affiliates: A Quick Survey of “Broken” Asset Classes
“The Death of Equities” 1979, “Is Value Investing Dead? It Might Be and Here’s What Killed It” 2019 – these are examples of some financial media headlines which declared certain asset classes “broken”. This article highlights how “broken” asset classes will outperform after a period of underperformance as a mean reversion takes hold. The comment that really sticks out is “long-termism helps tune out the noise and raises the likelihood of a successful investment experience via diversification, rebalancing, and long-term compounding”.

Harvard Business Review: Your To-Do List is in Fact Too Long
This short article brings a simple solution to help address the ever growing to do list.

As a lifelong learner, I am always interested in reading material that broadens my horizons, challenges my thinking and provides all-important context for the decisions we make. This is true for the entire Northwood team.

We’d also be interested in hearing what you’ve been reading lately. If you’ve come across any particularly insightful articles or books, please feel free to send them to me at Thanks to the many people who have already shared their ideas.

All the best,

Northwood Family Office

Tom McCullough

Tom McCullough is Chairman and CEO of Northwood Family Office, which looks after the investments and integrated financial affairs of wealthy families with $10 million or more. He teaches ‘The Management of Private Wealth’ in the MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and is also co-author of the books, Family Wealth Management and Wealth of Wisdom: The Top 50 Questions Wealthy Families Ask.

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