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  1. Wealth
December 22, 2021

What does wealth mean in 2021? Experts comment on the rise of billionaires over the past decade

By Spear's

As Spear’s celebrates its 15th anniversary, leading entrepreneurs, economists, philanthropists and advisers consider some fundamental questions

Things have changed since Spear’s was founded in 2006 – when there were fewer than 1,000 billionaires in the world; their combined net worth a little under $3 trillion. Today, there are 2,755 billionaires, according to Forbes, and they have a collective net worth of $13 trillion. This shift has had consequences for economies and individuals alike.


Economist, former Greek finance minister, and council member of the political organisation Progressive International

Wealth began life as a stash of resources and ended up as the most potent weapon the strong have to make the poor poorer, the weak weaker and the planet browner. More generally, the wealthy may be more ready now to acknowledge that inequality has become obscene. However, these acknowledgments by no means translate into any readiness to accept change that will diminish their wealth.


Family law partner, Stewarts, and Spear’s 2019 Family Lawyer of the Year

I think it is less of an understanding and more of a fact that wealthy families have relatively suddenly become ultra-wealthy. Whereas previously a significant proportion of our clients were multi-millionaires, we are now routinely involved in divorces with hundreds of millions.

The world in the past 15 years has become increasingly international and mobile, and we have seen international UHNW families flocking to London, drawn to the financial success of the capital.

London’s divorce courts also have a generous approach to carving up a family fortune, and so it remains the divorce capital of the world. This, combined with the rise of the ultra-wealthy, means we are dealing with an ever increasing number of high-value and complex cases.

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In 2014, the largest ever award by an English court at the time, of £337 million, was made in favour of the wife, Jamie Cooper-Hohn. Two years later this was superseded by an award of £453 million, again in favour of the wife, Tatiana Akhmedova. Many other cases settle outside of court for even higher sums. The stakes for UHNW families are just getting higher and higher.


CEO of the Brilliant Minds Foundation and former global CEO of luxury concierge service Quintessentially

Over the past 15 years there has been a growing desire to see wealthy people engage more directly in how to better use their wealth in society – not just through their own economic power, but also by utilising their skills for the benefit of the wider community. Whether they’re helping to raise local educational standards, tackle poverty or homelessness, support underprivileged children or the elderly, or encourage efforts around climate change, the expectation to get involved is higher. I think the wealthy now are much more invested in philanthropy as part and parcel of ‘being rich’, and better understand the need to help those less fortunate, rather than just looking to develop their own family name.

The pandemic of course caused another great shift in the perception of wealth, as even the super-wealthy struggled to do the things they wanted to do or needed to do easily – be it last-minute travel, access to experiences, or spending time with loved ones. The pandemic challenged the idea that money could buy you anything – instead, for the rich, their wealth became a tool to make changes in their own life, and to help others who needed it. The past 18 months have seen people refocus their priorities more than ever. Now people are looking beyond money and status when it comes to defining success in life, and care more about personal wellness, happiness, the environment around them, and being able to connect with the people and things they care about.


CEO of the Edmond de Rothschild Group

The geographies of wealth have shifted undeniably. We have seen an increase in private banking clientele from a variety of regions, most notably from Asia and the Middle East. Today, this means that there isn’t a single understanding or definition of wealth, but a more diverse vision according to cultures and values.

We have also witnessed a shift in demographics. Our bank has continued to attract entrepreneurs, who are turning to us for advice on how to consolidate their wealth. But we are also supporting clients who are second or third generation of entrepreneurs and are increasingly interested in a more holistic vision of wealth.

They are no longer involved in a day-to-day business but want to understand how to manage assets to transfer them to future generations, with a desire to pass on more than they received.

Last but not least, the priorities of the wealthy have shifted. Forward-thinking visions have become more essential as clients are increasingly conscious of the world’s challenges, and of the role they can play in addressing them. For many, wealth is no longer considered an end in itself, but as a starting point for making change happen.

Image: Shutterstock

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