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Where do the world’s billionaires come from?


Published by PwC and UBS last Friday, the Billionaires Insights 2018 disclosed the demographics of world billionaires in 2017. Statistics were collected from more than 2,000 billionaires from 43 countries.

Last year, the number of global billionaires increased 19% to reach US$8.9 trillion, the greatest growth in human history. The majority (80%) of the wealth came from the US, and the rest could be traced to the Asia Pacific region. Although the US possessed the largest population of billionaires last year, the growth rate of Asia Pacific billionaires tripled the rate in the US.

Meanwhile, 199 billionaires emerged last year. A third (30%) of these newly minted billionaires were the Fourth Industrial Revolution pioneers since their wealth was accumulated through innovation and business model disruption.

China was singled out in the report because of its wealth-rising domination in a short amount of time. While there were only 16 Chinese billionaires in 2006, the number of billionaires has risen to 373 in only 11 years.

Last year, their wealth rose by 39% to US$1.12 trillion, 7% higher than the average growth rate in the region. Hereditary is not the cause that fuels the Chinese’s rise in billionaire rankings. Around 97% of the interviewed Chinese billionaires came from self-made entrepreneurs who specialised in the technology and retail sectors.

The US-China trade war may slow down the Chinese growth rates, but with China’s innate advantages such as a large population and a policy focus on technology, there will be grounds for Chinese entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Dr Marcel Widrig, partner and private wealth leader of PwC, said: “Our report reveals how China is currently the leading country for entrepreneurs to create wealth. Nowhere else has the same combination of a huge population, technology innovation and government support.”

A major global wealth transition is also under way – 701 billionaires in the world were over the age of 70 which signifies the likelihood of 40% of the current wealth either being inherited by heirs or handed over to charity in the next 20 years.

Among the young billionaires, there is a tendency for them to invest their money to create positive social impact such as philanthropy and sustainable investment. An entrepreneurial spirit is prevalent among today’s successors.

Within APAC, Hong Kong had the second highest number of elderly billionaires after India. Imminent succession planning should be foreseen in the near future.

Three main economic challenges suggested by Philip Wyatt, UBS Chief Investment Office for APAC at the Economist, were rising global interest rates, significant changes in the value of the US dollar on global markets and a slowdown of international trade in terms of imports and exports.

The Billionaires Insights 2018 was conducted for five years. It aims to investigate the modern wealth generation, their changing fortunes and needs.

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