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Total billionaire wealth grows to record $8.9 trillion

Staff Writer |
Billionaires’ wealth enjoyed its greatest-ever increase in 2017, rising 19 percent to USD 8.9 trillion shared among 2,158 individuals.

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Despite healthy growth in the Americas and Europe, Chinese billionaires expanded their wealth at nearly double the pace, growing by 39 percent to USD 1.12 trillion.

These findings were published in UBS and PwC’s joint, annual Billionaires Insights report: New Visionaries and the Chinese Century. Now in its fifth edition, the report draws on UBS and PWC’s extensive client network and access to data, and aims to promote a deeper understanding of the billionaire population globally.

There were only 16 Chinese billionaires as recently as 2006. Today, only 30 years after the country’s government first allowed private enterprise, they number 373 – nearly one in five of the global total.

The Chinese cohort is 97 percent self-made, many of them in sectors such as technology and retail. 89 Chinese entrepreneurs became billionaires in 2017, roughly three times more than in the US and EMEA.

Billionaires from Asia and especially in China's city of Shenzhen are now challenging the US’ traditional dominance in technology entrepreneurialism. In 2017, they equalled America’s level of venture capital funding for start-ups, registered four times as many Artificial-Intelligence-related patents and three times as many blockchain and crypto-related patents as their US counterparts.

A major wealth transition has begun. There are 701 billionaires over the age of 70, whose wealth will transition to heirs and philanthropy over the next 20 years, given the statistical probability of average life expectancy. This is almost 40 percent of current billionaire wealth (USD 3.4 trillion) worldwide

Younger billionaires are the driving force behind a growth in philanthropy and sustainable investing, as they use their wealth to create positive social impact. More than one third (38 percent) of family offices are now engaged in sustainable investing, and almost half (45 percent) plan to increase their sustainable investments in the next 12 months.

Young billionaires are also looking to create their own economic value. Nearly two thirds (62 percent) of billionaires’ sons and daughters who inherited the family business in 2017 sought to become entrepreneurs, compared with 42 percent who inherited assets.

Global billionaire growth of 19 percent was lower than growth in the MSCI World Index, which rose by 25 percent. The biggest growth sectors were consumer & retail, which rose by USD 360 billion, technology (USD 250 billion) and materials (USD 180 billion).

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