Asian self-made billionaires place second to Americans

Asians surpassed Europeans, but fell behind Americans in a new survey of self-made billionaires released yesterday. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Asians surpassed Europeans, but fell behind Americans in a new survey of self-made billionaires released yesterday. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERGPHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Asians surpassed Europeans, but fell behind Americans in a new survey of self-made billionaires released yesterday.

Asia accounts for 36 per cent of wealth from these billionaires, easily beating Europe which came in a distant third at 17 per cent, the report by Swiss bank UBS and consultancy PwC found.

The United States topped the ranking with 47 per cent of billionaires who did not inherit wealth.

Mr Joseph Poon, UBS head of ultra high net worth for South-east Asia, told a briefing: "There's been an explosion in growth of billionaires, particularly in Asia. The growth is so strong that Asian billionaires will surpass American billionaires in five to 10 years."

The report said that until 1980, most of the world's billionaires lived in the US and Europe.

Findings also show that in 1996, only about 45 per cent of US billionaires and 25 per cent of European billionaires were self-made.

The study found that 66 per cent of more than 1,300 billionaires studied - from 1995 to 2014 - were self-made billionaires.

"A high proportion of the billionaires are entrepreneurs, they are either first- or second-generation, and they are still very much involved in their family business," said Mr Poon.

The report also found that more billionaires are using philanthropy to establish a legacy.

He noted that as businesses run by Asian billionaire families grow in size and complexity, succession planning and engaging the second generation have become more important in creating a lasting family legacy, and the family office has evolved.

Mr Poon also said that clients have expressed a rising interest in property around the world.

"We've also noticed that there's a heavy skew in Singapore billionaires towards real estate - running a business of only real estate, or owning real estate investment assets," he added.

Mr Anthony Eldridge, PwC's Singapore financial services leader, said that going along that line, it is not surprising that physical real estate is a major focus for billionaire wealth creation in Asia.

The study also found other sources for billionaires to grow their wealth, such as new infrastructure, digital technology, and the consumer sector which reflects the general economic progress being made.

Mr Eldridge expects Asia to be a centre of new billionaire wealth creation in the years ahead.

"When you look to China, every week or 10 days you've got another billionaire being created and we're not necessarily seeing that slowing down."

rachaelb@sph.com.sg