World's rich grow richer as bull markets roar on: Study

The pool of money held by the world's wealthiest people grew by 12 per cent last year to nearly US$202 trillion (S$272 trillion). PHOTO: AFP

ZURICH (REUTERS) - The pool of money held by the world's wealthiest people grew by 12 per cent last year to nearly US$202 trillion (S$272 trillion) as bull markets and the dollar's weakening against most major currencies boosted global fortunes, an international advisory firm's study released on Thursday (June 14) said.

Adjusted for exchange rate swings, wealth rose 7 per cent, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey found.

While residents of North America held the greatest share of personal wealth at almost 43 per cent, the fastest growth came in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Most super-rich individuals lived in the United States, China and Japan.

The business of providing advice to those super-rich is still strong in North America.

However, legacy retail brokerages such as Morgan Stanley , Bank of America Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, UBS AG Group's Wealth Management in the Americas and Wells Fargo Advisors lost market share as less wealthy clients went elsewhere.

Legacy brokerages' market share fell to 37 percent in 2016 from 41 percent in 2012, while the portion held by direct channel firms such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity grew modestly to 21 percent from 20 percent.

More than 35 million Americans now have between US$250,000 and US$1 million, a wealth bracket the industry calls mass affluent. BCG senior partner Brent Beardsley said that many mass affluent savers hold a lot of their money in a retirement account, like a 401(k), which oftentimes are managed by a company like Schwab or Fidelity.

"(They have) a natural structural advantage" over legacy brokerages, Beardsley said.

BCG's annual study also showed Switzerland remained the world's biggest centre for managing offshore wealth with US$2.3 trillion, followed by Hong Kong with US$1.1 trillion and Singapore with US$0.9 trillion.

The two Asian centres have grown at yearly rates of 11 and 10 per cent respectively over the past five years, more than three times the 3 per cent rate Switzerland has posted.

It is in the fast-growing markets that large wealth managers including Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse are casting wider nets.

The Swiss banking secrecy from which they long profited has been weakened, meaning rich people from around the world can no longer easily use the Alpine Republic to stash wealth away from tax authorities at home.

The changes have put Switzerland in fierce competition with faster-growing centres like Hong Kong and Singapore.

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