The ranks of the global “ultra high net worth” (UHNW) individuals swelled by 46,000 last year to a record 218,200 as the world’s richest people benefited from “almost an explosion of wealth” during the recovery from the pandemic.
The number of UHNW people – those with assets of more than $50m (£43.7m) – jumped in 2021 as the super-rich benefited from soaring house prices and booming stock markets, according to a report by investment bank Credit Suisse. The number of people in the UHNW bracket has increased by more than 50% over the past two years.
The huge increase in wealth of the richest 0.00004% of the world’s adult population comes as billions of low- and middle-income people – many of whom saw their savings wiped out during the pandemic – struggle to cope with soaring food and energy prices.
“The strong rise in financial assets resulted in an increase in inequality in 2021,” the report by Credit Suisse, which helps manage the fortunes of many of the world’s richest people, said. “The rise in inequality is probably due to the surge in the value of financial assets during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report found that “the recovery of macroeconomic activity in a low interest environment produced exceptionally favourable conditions for household wealth growth during 2021”.
“We estimate that global wealth totalled $463.6tn at the end of 2021, a rise of $41.4tn (9.8%),” the report said. “Wealth per adult grew by $6,800 (8.4%) during the course of the year to reach $87,489, close to three times the level recorded at the turn of the century.”
Anthony Shorrocks, an economics professor and an author of the report, said there had been “almost an explosion of wealth last year … Probably higher than any other year we have ever recorded”.
The increase in wealth has not been distributed fairly. The richest 1% of the global population increased their share of all the world’s wealth for a second year running to 46%, up from 44% in 2020.
The number of US dollar millionaires increased by 5.2 million during 2021 to a total of 62.5 million – just under the 67 million population of the UK. Shorrocks said the number of millionaires was becoming so large that it was becoming “an increasingly irrelevant measure of wealth”.
More than a third of the millionaires live in the US, which is home to 24.5 million millionaires, or 39% of the world’s total.
The number of US millionaires increased by 2.5 million – almost half of all new millionaires minted across the world. “This is the largest increase in millionaire numbers recorded for any country in any year this century and reinforces the rapid rise in millionaire numbers seen in the US since 2016,” the report said.
China is in second place, with 10% of the world’s millionaires, ahead of Japan with 5.4%, the UK (4.6%) and France (4.5%).
Switzerland was once again named the richest country in terms of mean average wealth per adult at $700,000, ahead of the US at $579,000.
However, the inequalities in those countries are highlighted when the median average wealth per adult is examined. Switzerland falls to sixth place with a median wealth of $168,000 and the US drops to 18th place with $93,000. Australia is top of the median wealth table with $274,000.
UK adults have a mean wealth of $309,000 (14th place) and a median wealth of $142,000 (ninth place).
The country with the biggest jump in mean average wealth was New Zealand, which saw a $114,000 average increase to $472,000.
Number of global ultra high net worth individuals hits record high