Global super-rich on the march as personal fortunes swell

Biggest yacht in Monaco still

More than 1.76 million people joined the ranks of the global super-rich last year as stock-market gains and soaring property prices swelled personal fortunes worldwide.

A record 13.7 million people are now classed as "high net worth individuals" (HNWI), according to a survey of the planet's most well-off citizens.

The collective wealth of HNWIs – defined as those with investable assets of at least $1m (£590,000) not including their main home, their art collection or vintage sports cars – rose by 13.8% to $52.6tn. The latest wealth report by consultancy firm Capgemini and the wealth management arm of banking group RBC found that almost 40% of those fortunes were created in the last five years.

In Britain, more than 62,000 people became HNWIs last year, bringing their numbers to a record high of 527,000 – or one in every 121 of the population.

George King, RBC's head of portfolio strategy, who advises the super-wealthy on where to invest their money, said there are now so many super-rich people that it is hard to distinguish "millionaires next door" from the general population. "Most of them are quite normal," he said, adding that "90% plus are people next door, they're not oligarchs, they don't look any different. They're not ostentatious."

In order to distinguish the super-rich from the uber-rich, a second category exists within the survey dubbed "ultra-HNWI", who have more than $30m of assets to invest. There are 128,000 of these – an increase of 18,000 on the previous year – who collectively hold assets worth $18tn.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the report highlighted concerns that a "super-rich clique appear to be hogging the proceeds of growth for themselves" while real wages for ordinary workers are falling or are under pressure.

"A stock market-led recovery may be great for rich share owners but it does nothing to improve the living standards of the majority," she said. "Unless we have more balanced and equal growth – starting with fairer wages for all – the benefits of recovery will pass many people by."

King said the majority of the Britons joining the club had done so with the help of rising property prices. "There is a really strong preference for real estate and it shows no signs of going away," he said.

Despite the increase in the UK's wealthy, Britain is far behind the US in terms of the total number of HNWIs. In the US there are 4.3 million people with more than $1m investable assets, an increase of 16.6% on the previous year. The top four global economic powers – the US, Japan, Germany and China – are home to 60% of the worldwide population of HNWIs.The Asia-Pacific region recorded the biggest growth in number of HNWIs to 4.33 million, leaving the region just 10,000 super-rich people short of overtaking north America. RBC and Capgemini analysts said the Asia-Pacific region would almost certainly overtake north America this year.

"Global HNWI financial wealth is forecast to grow 6.9% annually through 2016 to reach a new record high of $64.3tn, with an additional $11.7tn in NHWI wealth created over the three-year period 2014-2016," the analysts said. "Every region except Latin America is expected to grow strongly, through Asia-Pacific is likely to emerge as the clear leader, with a 9.8% annual growth rate. Asia-Pacific's strong growth should allow it to overtake North America in HNWI population in 2014, and in HNWI wealth by 2015."

However, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates shared the distinction of creating new wealth at the fastest rate, with the number of HNWIs increasing by almost a quarter in both countries. Switzerland, synonymous with low taxes and banking secrecy, added 48,000 new HNWIs last year to jump to seventh place in the millionaire rankings with 330,000. With a population of just 8 million, it means one in every 24 people in the Alpine country have more than $1m of assets to invest.

The analysts said the average age of the wealthy is falling steeply due to the number of new technology start-up millionaires and fortunes being split between the children of millionaire dynasties. The report claims the rich are showing increasing concern about the need to give something back and use their fortune to make a "positive impact on society".

In the Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management survey of 4,500 HNWIs across 23 countries, 60.5% of respondents said making a positive social impact was very important or extremely important. In India, which is now home to 156,000 HNWIs, 90.5% of respondents said it was important for them to give their time or money to make a difference, compared with 60.2% in the UK and just 31.4% in Belgium.

The report said while older wealthy people tend to donate to charity, younger rich people increasingly want to get involved on the ground. "The tendency of younger HNWIs to volunteer is consistent with the observation of a number of firm executives that younger HNWIs are looking to be more hands-on, while those over 60 are more likely to focus on more traditional methods, such as charitable giving or donations made to acquire naming rights," the report said.

King said the uber-wealthy's choice of playthings to splash their cash on has remained pretty constant with holiday homes, superyachts and private jets. But he said the richest of the rich are moving away from cautious investments like gold or cash in favour of riskier punts that they hope will enable them to make even more money.

"A focus on wealth growth instead of preservation gained ground, particularly among the ultra-HNWIs," the report said. "Specifically, their preference for growth increased dramatically to 30.7% from 18% in 2013, while the focus on preservation declined from 44.8% to 27.6%."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rupert Neate, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th June 2014 19.38 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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