The acronym UHNW (ultra-high net worth) has, in recent years, become part of the mainstream vocabulary.
The need to distinguish between the merely rich and the super wealthy has arisen in the last couple of decades because of the rapid acceleration of wealth creation on a hitherto unprecedented scale on one hand, and the emergence of the newly wealthy from the former (communist) Eastern Bloc and Asia on the other.
There are today several organizations, both commercial and educational, that monitor this relatively small segment of the global population. They research trends, compile affiliations, assets, occupations, family and philanthropic engagement, and attempt to map this demographic by continent, country and city.
Forbes magazine keeps exhaustive records of the world’s billionaires, filtered by different criteria. The Hurun Report, known as the China Rich List, was established by Rupert Hoogewerf and has long monitored the mainland China super-wealthy. The Sunday Times Rich List is a list of the 1,000 wealthiest people or families in the UK, updated and published once a year. Finans magazine publishes its own list for Russia. WealthX, a relative newcomer, charges for the research it compiles, while admitting the data is already available but tailored to their clients. Judging by their marketing muscle, there is clearly no shortage of clients paying steep prices for what amounts to a well-organized and regularly updated digest. Their motto: ‘Connecting you to Wealth’, is somewhat ambiguous – the company, in common with other less well-marketed commercial researchers, does not in fact offer an introductory service to UHNW individuals – at any price.
The Giving Pledge, founded by Bill Gates, publishes a list of everyone who has taken the pledge. The list is entirely geared towards philanthropy. B Beyond magazine has a long established niche in profiling and interviewing UHNW individuals in their own words. Rather than collecting data, we have focused on developing a deeper understanding of what is, culturally, a hugely varied demographic.
What unites them
Things that vastly wealthy individuals have in common are: entrepreneurial intelligence, market instinct, intuitive grasp of global economics, understanding of human nature, support for humanitarian causes.
HNW v. UHNW
It is a routinely perpetrated mistake to lump HNW and UHNW individuals together – there are as many differences between the two as there are between a HNW and the merely salaried.
We list some of these below in the context of a light-hearted magazine feature. The lifestyle and psychological profiling of this rarefied segment of the world’s population can of course be further refined by different criteria but that is the subject of a tailored study which we are often contracted to do. Who commissions this type of research and why?
Given that the proverbial 1% support a vast number of commercial and financial entities, most high brands and several niche industries, the appetite for research – and ultimately access – is only set to grow exponentially.
What differentiates the UHNW from the HNW
While the HNWs are busy amassing a fortune, the UHNWs are busy donating a proportion (often, a very high proportion) of theirs. At a certain level, money becomes a matter of custodianship and social responsibility, rather than purchasing power. The UHNWI, towards the mid-trajectory of their wealth growth, has done it all and doesn’t require bells and whistles all the time.
The UHNWI no longer craves 5* hotels and resorts, but values privacy above all. The UHNWI is also chasing after ultimate experiences and more specifically, those that enhance their philanthropic sensibilities and the living conditions of their less fortunate fellow human. Hence, the emergence of platforms that cater for the traveller who is accustomed to comfort but is also prepared to sacrifice it for the greater good of the planet.
Sustainability is, in fact, a big theme for a major proportion of the global UHNW community. They have seen and done it all and if they haven’t, they certainly have the means to. Their objective has changed.
The HNWI, on the other hand, is still very much influenced by trends, peer pressure and the desire to be perceived as someone who matters. Travel hot spots and being seen there still matter hugely, hence the popularity of hotels such as Badrutt’s Palace (a super nice hotel, incidentally, that has traditionally hosted the great and the good).
The UHNWI can afford to travel by private jet, but doesn’t mind roughing when he or she reaches their destination. Today, many a UHNWI would eschew taking the jet because of carbon footprint considerations.
The HNWI needs social validation more, so goes to a lot of fundraising and high end sporting events/charity balls and the like. The UHNW tend to eschew most if not all social events, unless they are hosting them or the event is being hosted by a close friend/associate. The HNWI goes to all dining/clubbing establishments that get press for their royal and celebrity patronage. This is because the HNWI needs to be noticed.
The UHNWI’s money speaks for itself and they do not need the validation of a third party establishment – when they go to dine, they do so because they appreciate the food. When they go to a party, it is because the party consists of guests who are their peers.
Everyone who has money can buy or rent a large house/estate/private island. You can spot the UHNW by the art they collect and invest in. HNW individuals are notorious for framing ‘cheques’ for display purposes – cheques, in this context, being easily recognisable brand name works that scream ‘I am loaded’.
The UHNWI collects thoughtfully and methodically, building an asset for posterity or for investment, mostly both. The serious UHNW collector can manipulate the art market and make or break the reputation of an artist.
Dress and fashion
The UHNWI doesn’t have to impress or prove anything to anyone. He or she doesn’t need to be validated by ‘luxury brands’ nor wear the latest trend. The UHNWI buys quality and understands value.
Most UHNWs opt for understatement as a matter of routine and preference – unless they are eccentrics, in which case they dress with unbridled flamboyance. Show me a man with an ostentatious gold watch and a noisy car, accessorized by an impetuous attitude, and I see a UHNW wannabe.
With a few notable exceptions, the UHNW maintain several city and country homes and spend a great deal of their lives airborne or afloat. The UHNW entertain at home, wherever home may be at any one time. The HNWI is primarily a city creature – he or she frequents expensive and fashionable restaurants and clubs, and parties-to-be-seen-at.
The UHNWI shuns attention – the HNWI basks in it. The UHNWI has a choice of media platforms, but only uses them to drive a particular message across, not to draw attention to themselves.
The UHNW has the confidence and generosity of spirit to befriend without regard to social rank, and relates effortlessly to ‘mere humans’. The HNW has a strong sense of his or her position and is not easily approachable. UHNWIs are fairly isolated because of their wealth and for reasons of security/media intrusion. Dating at that level is complicated and tends to be done within a trusted circle/by introduction.
UHNWIs are very conscious of the fact that they can make or break financial markets. They operate in semi-religious secrecy and through agents. The HNW accumulates; the UHNWI sees himself as a responsible custodian of their fortune.
Attitude to offspring is particularly interesting. A large proportion of UHNWIs have pledged their fortune to charitable causes through trusts and foundations administered nevertheless by their offspring, perpetrating the custodianship theme.
The above is a fairly general overview of two vastly different demographics, often and erroneously referred to under the common acronym UHNW. As the ultra wealthy become even wealthier, more in-depth reports and dossiers will emerge – some based on available research, others on pure speculation. The only ones with any merit will be based on continual and direct interaction.