June 2013

OPINION: Where are the low-net-worths?

Village houseRecently, I received an announcement about some new research into the “top small towns and villages for millionaires in the UK” from a company called Wealth Insight. The announcement furnished the following blinding, erm, insight: ‘Towns in the London commuter belt dominate the top 10, although it is interesting to see that a couple small towns around Manchester also make the list. This reflects the affluent nature of the Cheshire area.” Well, knock me down with a feather. And, reader, there’s more: “Henley is the fastest growing town on the list with millionaire numbers there rising by 25% over the period between 2007 and 2012,” says Andrew Amoils, an analyst at Wealth Insight. “This compares very well with general UK millionaire numbers which declined by 9% over that period.” The only thing I like about these penetrating insights is that millionaires are called millionaires, rather than high-net-worth individuals. But this advantage quickly evaporates. “For the purposes of the study, ‘millionaires’ – otherwise known as high-net-worth individuals (HWNIs) – refers to those individuals with net assets of $1 million or more, excluding their primary residences,” a note explains. Glad we’ve got that cleared up. The website of Wealth Insight (which, naturally, shouldn’t be written as I have just written it, but rather in the affected squash – WealthInsight – beloved of many an OutFit that’s had the image consultants in) promises many more breathtaking revelations about what I’m sure it must call “the wealth space”. These can be purchased – yes, purchased – on a subscription or one-off basis. I demurred. But it was possible to glean some pearls of wisdom from the media page. Did you know that California is the US state with the most UHNWIs, at 12.5%? Thought not. Followed by New York (11%), Texas (11%) and Florida (7%). This is thrilling stuff, only slightly spoiled by the use of the fantastically ugly term UHNWI, which is not a branch of the UN concerned with wireless internet technology, but that lonesome beast: the ultra-high-net-worth individual. These little fellas have a net worth above $30 million, making your regular HNWI look like a veritable pauper. But you probably knew that. You knew it because there is a constant spew of research about HNWIs and UHNWIs in the investment industry. Hell, they even have their own indices: the Spear’s Indices. These are apparently “regarded by the HNW community as the authoritative guide to the best wealth managers, lawyers and private client professionals working in the UK today”. It’s easy to understand why HNWIs and UHNWIs get so much attention. They have loads of money, and so it’s possible to make loads of money from them. And, yes, OK, sometimes that money can be used to further worthy aims. (There’s an index for that too: the Philanthropy Index.) But this lip-smacking obsession with HNWIs and UHNWIs really does not reflect well on the investment industry, particularly in these austere times. It is, to quote a friend who recently steered a party of after-work drinkers away from a glitzy City bar in the direction of a cheap and cosy taverna, all just a little bit too pre-crisis. There has been much talk about how to restore trust in the investment industry. In its 2012 annual report, the CFA Institute included an integrity list of 50 ways to restore trust in the investment industry.
I have a 51st way: talk a lot about how you can serve low-net-worth [LNWIs] individuals. In the meantime, let’s call a spade a spade. If someone is rich, or super rich, let’s just say so rather than hiding behind über-technical euphemisms. Imagine the relief if you never had to write HNWI or UHNWI again. Fiona Rintoul is Editorial Director at Funds Europe
©2013 funds europe

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