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  1. Wealth
December 23, 2021

What does wealth mean in 2021? Experts comment on the responsibilities of HNWs

By Spear's

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

The swelling ranks of UHNWs around the world have prompted many to reconsider the relationship between wealthy people and the world they live in. What is wealth, really? Does it confer responsibilities upon those who bear it? Perhaps current public discourse fails to acknowledge the true value of wealth — creators to society?


Former chairman of Chatham House and of Goldman Sachs Asset Management

Health is more important than wealth, although having access to wealth probably means the likelihood of better health is considerably higher. To desire more wealth in its own right often seems a bit pointless to me, as once you reach a certain milestone, there will be another one, and for virtually all humanity there is always going to be someone wealthier than you. As so many examples highlight, wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness, but not having any financial worries probably makes life better.


CEO and founder of Prism the Gift Fund

I personally believe everyone has a responsibility to give. Prism did a piece of research last year and wrote a paper called The Philanthropy Paradox. It showed that people welcome donations, but do not necessarily like donors. So there is this jealousy or this distrust of the actual donor, and yet, people want them to give money. So it’s like, ‘We like the money, we just don’t like the donor, because they’ve made money’. So there is a paradox.

There are partnerships between strategists and charities and donors, all working together to try and understand the best use of distributions, the best use of philanthropy. But, ultimately, if an individual has made the money then, with guidance, let them decide how to distribute it. Why should anyone else tell them what to do?

The tragedy, really, is when some people don’t feel the responsibility to give.

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IT entrepreneur turned philanthropist who founded Autistica, the UK’s national autism research charity

I am proud to be the first person to drop out of the Rich List altogether after giving away my wealth. What is wealth? Plenty of something desirable – you can have a wealth of information, or it can be of money, even crypto money. And wealth supports optimum health – indeed, the only true wealth can be said to be health.

Wealth is not everything, but it’s very important in helping us to achieve the things we care about. It’s been measured that being rich does make you happier – but only by a small amount (a quarter of a point on a ten-point scale). And how you get your money impacts how satisfied you are with it. (I’m happier with my self-made wealth than if I’d won it on the lottery.)

As an inner condition of being, wealth allows you to live life on your own terms. Scarcity is a fundamental factor – a sum considered to be trivial in the UK would be wealth in a developing country. Wealth varies over time and the demands on it are elastic: successful people’s expensive lifestyles may have them again worrying about there being ‘more month than money’. My own discipline of information technology means that today’s wealthy standard of living could be considered impoverished by future generations.

Wealth gives combinations of being able to stay rich, to get richer, and to enjoy. Most people whose wealth is generally limited to pensions and home ownership see it as something for a rainy day. Aristocrats preserve wealth to pass on to future generations. The proletariat have least wealth and used to have least opportunity to acquire it. But that has changed in recent years, with many successful entrepreneurs coming from the most modest of backgrounds.

I practise the socialist view of wealth creation: I took my company into co-ownership, refer to social investments rather than philanthropy, and believe that while over half the world’s wealth is owned by one per cent of the people, those of us who are wealthy should pay more tax. Otherwise, wealth will begin to engender hatred (as has certainly become the case in the USA). Wealth gave me choice. But its hidden power is influence.


American-British investment banker and philanthropist. Managing director of investment management firm Pimco

Carved into the wall of my home in Spain is a simple but resonant statement of truth, taken from the writings of the Roman philosopher Seneca: ‘Nullius boni sine socio iucunda possessio est.’ This can be translated as: ‘There is no pleasure in owning something that you can’t share with friends.’ Its implications extend far beyond conviviality, though shared pleasures are among the best things in life. Moving our frame of reference to Ancient Greece, we remember that the word ‘philanthropy’ essentially means ‘love of people’. When it comes to sharing in the truest and deepest sense, we need to think of everybody as our friend.

Sharing – a word now hijacked to describe the dissemination of information or the posting of photos on social media – is not confined to physical resources like money or food. If you are intent on philanthropy, your time and your talents, when devoted to mentoring and nurturing, can be worth as much as your treasure (your wealth). In the long run they might well be worth even more. Nor is sharing confined to people – or organisations – of considerable means. Anyone, no matter what their status or their age, can make a powerful impact by sharing what they have. Perhaps it is even people who are not wealthy who stand to gain most motivation from Seneca’s message. By sharing, you set an example to the people who have benefited from your generosity. They will be encouraged to share in turn, multiplying the effect. By creating a virtuous circle, the more you give, the more you stand to receive in terms of satisfaction, peace of mind and meaningful relationships. Just as sharing is not all about money, so wealth is about more than the material world.


Founder of private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners and author of The Dealmaker: Lessons from a Life in Private Equity

For most of the past 50 years, people have viewed the gathering of wealth as being about the ability to acquire toys or power to satisfy one’s ego. Today this is changing and using one’s wealth to benefit the whole of humanity is how you can satisfy your soul. Three main things are driving this.

One: Human habitat. It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are – if the world is burning, you suffer the consequences as everyone else. If all the wealthy in the world gave 10 per cent of their wealth to finding an effective and economical way to industrialise carbon capture and store the resulting carbon, they could achieve far more than any political global summit has and transform the world, creating a legacy as significant as the Renaissance.

Two: Inequality. The wealth divide creates resentment and always has. The only way to reduce that resentment is to give something back and use one’s wealth to help others and try to improve society. In a global digital world, the rich cannot hide from public opinion and the consequences of resentment can be dire.

Three: Covid. The pandemic has seen people who are not materially rich make extraordinary sacrifices to help their communities. Those who are wealthy now need to demonstrate to their communities their personal commitment if they want to continue to have support. We must remember that public support can be lost in ways never seen before.


Chair of pro-equality campaign group Patriotic Millionaires and a former managing director at BlackRock

I see the meaning of wealth changing as you go through stages of wealth accumulation over the course of your life. Say you graduate from school, and get your first job. You have enough money to get lunch with your colleagues from the deli next to your office. You have as much self-confidence and self-esteem as the guy who owns the company.

Then, after a year of smiling at your cute colleague who goes to lunch at the same time you do, and eating dinner together when you’re working late when big deals are going down, you decide you’re ready to start your lives together and you’d rather have the hour- long train than continue living separately in your respective parents’ houses. After your bonuses, between the two of you you’ve got $100,000 – and the bank counts that as salary, so they will loan you another $400,000. When you buy the house with the white picket fence that’s a half-mile walk from the train station, you feel rich.

A couple of decades later, you’re more worried about money for your junior staffers’ bonuses than your bonus, and your high-school junior asks about paying for college. You really feel like you’ve made it when you tell your kid not to worry about financial aid or loans or anything; for college, you will give them whatever they need.

Soon after that, you realise you are too busy with your life and your volunteer work, and you’re thinking that something has to go – and you suddenly realise that it’s the job that has to go. When you realise that you can give up your income without affecting your life one bit, you know you are wealthy.

A few years later, you are at lunch, listening to a talk by the executive director of an institute that you have been supporting. You realise that a lot of the people in the room are not actual philanthropists, they are the philanthropists’ staff members. You hire a director of philanthropy to help manage your giving, and you feel so much better about what you are doing after that.

That is when you know you have real wealth – not only can you and your family not spend it all, you even need help to give it away.


Heads the family wealth group at Smith & Williamson

What does wealth mean? For families with substantial assets, it might be better to ask ‘what is capital?’ In my career advising families on their strategic governance, it has become clear that it exists in several different forms.

Thinkers ranging from anthropologists to sociologists and family governance experts have identified a plethora of variants. I have found that delineating initially between human capital, intellectual capital, social capital, spiritual capital and, lastly, financial capital, is the most helpful approach to create engagement in discussions with families.

Aspects of each form of capital overlap: human is character, skills, labour and behaviour; intellectual is education, knowledge, talent and teaching; social is network, relationships, community responsibility and philanthropy; spiritual is values, ethics, morals and purpose; and financial is investments, ownership, liquidity and material goods. The reason I put financial last is that although it offers the easiest metrics for accounting, it is of zero intrinsic worth. Without this framework financial capital is invariably placed first; this can mean the riches in the family’s other forms of capital are ignored and lost.

Recently a client family member was keen to give financial capital to support an impact-first endeavour. This desire came from themselves (human capital), but more deeply was part of their value code (spiritual capital). They then articulated (intellectual capital) this to individual family members, the family council and its philanthropy subcommittee. This activity and seeking to influence other family members (social capital) had the dual aim of creating engagement and support for the project, as well as securing from a family fund the actual money to create impact (financial capital).

For the family, this will have the effect of enhancing their social capital as well as creating social good in a community where they are stakeholders – building a virtuous circle in the process. Overall, what you might call ‘family capital’ – the family’s entire store of all different forms of capital – will be augmented

But then, what is the purpose of family capital? That can only be examined by starting with family values and then embarking on this ongoing process of examining forms of capital.


Director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science

As growing inequality of wealth has become a politico-economic crisis in the US, wealth viewed as only financial assets has clouded over other forms of wealth that are more important in creating meaningful lives for people and for ensuring a liveable planet. Buddhists and ecologists understand that people are interdependent with each other and with nature. The Common Good and individual wellbeing are interconnected with the health of the planet and of all people. For this reason, at the personal and national level, we want to share prosperity – both financial wealth and natural wealth.

In addition to outer (material) wealth, inner (spiritual) wealth reflects the compassion, generosity, and wisdom in our daily lifestyle. Consumption and wealth cannot satisfy us, as it leads to more craving and grasping without end. Caring for others, enjoying nature, appreciating life as it unfolds around us, and cultivating inner peace will bring lasting happiness.

The ruthless, aggressive behaviour used to amass more and more wealth while plundering the earth and proscribing billions of people from living a decent life is immoral. For human happiness and planetary wellbeing, cultivating inner wealth rather than outer wealth will make everyone richer.


Entrepreneur and philanthropist; founder of the Travelex group, now chairman of e-commerce platform Doddle and chairman of the Prince’s Trust

There are three things I always think of when it comes to wealth. Firstly, be prudent and careful with investments because it’s really hard to make money, particularly if you started from nothing. Secondly, absolutely put something back at whatever level you can. And thirdly, don’t be afraid to enjoy it – otherwise what was the point?


Founder and chairman of PR agency PHA, former editor of the News of World and of Hello!

Earned wealth deserves to be respected rather than resented. The British media seems to believe they have the right to attack anyone who is a HNW individual. That is wrong.


Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford and author of Rescue: From Global Crisis to a Better World

Accumulating wealth through private entrepreneurship is how societies grow and prosper and employment is created. But with wealth comes responsibility. To pay tax and to give back. The pandemic has exacerbated and revealed the extent of wealth and income inequality as some individuals and firms have prospered and see the value of their assets soar, while others have collapsed. Who one’s parents are, where one is born – and other factors that we cannot influence – shape the contours of wealth inequality in the UK, and globally.

The escalation of risk, as has occurred with the pandemic and the climate emergency, increases inequality. Creating a more level playing field in which everyone feels they have a chance to participate meaningfully in society is vital if we are not to see rising anger, populism and nationalism. That would undermine our ability not only to thrive as countries, but to address the shared challenges we face collectively. This failure would destroy wealth and undermine the prospects for future generations. We are at a crossroads and the time to act in ways that create more inclusive and sustainable societies is now.


Businessman and founder and chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which encourages good governance in Africa

For me, wealth is about trying to change things for the better. As a boy from Africa who was lucky enough to have an opportunity to succeed, I hope my foundation can play a role in creating better prospects and opportunities for our young people. They are Africa’s greatest asset and we owe them a brighter future.


Chairman of BeyondNetZero and former chief executive of BP

The pandemic has exposed a whole range of inequalities in society and has shone a light on the causes of these disparities. It has also sharpened our focus on those which are only just beginning to emerge, such as those resulting from climate change. I cannot remember a time when inequalities of access to healthcare, education, work, leisure and even physical space have been so obvious. For me, this experience has served as a reminder of the holistic nature of wealth. To have the freedom to travel, to pursue education without hindrance, to enjoy green spaces, to choose how to make a living, to spend time with loved ones or simply to do nothing at all – these are measures of wealth. The use of financial resources makes all this easier for the wealthy, but that is not enough. To sustain these freedoms requires us to exercise profound generosity and to reinvest in the whole of society. And it requires us to believe that however good the past has been, a better future can be created. I have developed these beliefs and actions over my lifetime. The pandemic has made me want to do more and do it more quickly.

Image: Shutterstock

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