In this quarterly feature, we help our readers get to know some of the people who work at Northwood Family Office. This quarter, Andrew Jeffery interviews Viraj Samani. Viraj joined us in 2018 and works on the client service and investment teams at Northwood.
1. What does a typical day at Northwood look like?
At the risk of sounding cliché, no two days are alike. At Northwood, I split my time between client service and investment research. On the client service team, the work depends on the needs of each individual client. Some common themes include reviewing a client’s estate plan, projecting their cash flow needs, or assisting in asset allocation and investment decisions. On the investment research front, I may be evaluating an existing investment manager or exploring an entirely new asset class.
2. What did you do before Northwood?
I started my career at a national accounting firm, gaining experience in audit and tax. While it was a valuable learning experience, I wanted to be able to directly see the impact of my work in a more tangible way. After obtaining my Chartered Accountant (now Chartered Professional Accountant) designation, I left the corporate world to work at a business accelerator in Tanzania.
In Tanzania, I helped social enterprises scale their operations and gain access to capital. It was an extremely rewarding experience which allowed me to apply my financial background in an entirely new context. After Tanzania, I came back to Toronto and joined Northwood and the rest is history.
3. What sort of work does a Canadian accountant do at a Tanzanian business accelerator?
The majority of my time was spent working with Jibu Tanzania, a social enterprise focused on clean drinking water. The social franchise concept had already been proved out in several other emerging market countries (Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda) and was launching in Tanzania. The concept involved equipping local entrepreneurs with the resources to start their own clean water business, tackling both the water and unemployment crises.
I was responsible for building out the finance function, including market research, cost-analysis, and royalty negotiations. Since then, Jibu Tanzania has been successful in raising additional capital and continues to make a difference in the local communities they serve!
4. What attracted you to the multi-family office industry?
Though an accountant by profession, I am extremely passionate about capital markets. I remember working as a cashier in high-school and “saving up” so that I could invest in Bank of America shares.
When evaluating my future career, I was concerned by the fact that most investors did not share in the prosperity of the investment industry. In fact, even when the underlying investment funds performed well, most investors realized lower returns by continually buying high and selling low!1
I wanted to work in an industry where I could provide objective financial advice and avoid the misalignment of incentives that is ubiquitous in the investment industry. Most importantly, I wanted to help clients reach their goals. I felt that a multi-family office was the perfect place to combine my formal training as an accountant with my passion for capital markets.
5. What is the most unusual investment you have ever made?
While I was in Tanzania, I was in search of uncorrelated investment returns. After all, everyone knows the benefits of diversification! I decided to purchase a cash-generating Ugandan news website, yielding over 20% per year!
While the investment was legitimate, I severely underestimated the time and effort that goes into maintaining a website. I was lucky to divest of the website shortly after, while breaking even. Lesson learned – no more Ugandan websites (despite the diversification benefits).
6. What are your favorite things outside of work?
Free time is scarce these days, as most of my evenings and weekends are taken up with studying for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams. Once these are over, I plan to get back into Muay Thai kickboxing which has been a lost hobby of mine for some time. I also enjoy snowboarding, scuba diving, and traveling to new countries.