GaWC Research Bulletin 338

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This Research Bulletin has been published in B. Derudder, M. Hoyler, P.J. Taylor and F. Witlox (eds) (2012) International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar, pp. 378-389.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


The Privileged World City: Private Banking, Wealth Management and the Bespoke Servicing of the Global Super-Rich

J.V. Beaverstock*


“Of all the classes, the wealthy are the most noticed and least studied”
(John Kenneth Galbraith).
“… geographers … seem to have little to say about the contemporary super-rich, despite their evidential role in shaping the global economy”
(Beaverstock et. al., 2004, 402).

The gap in understanding the super-rich is somewhat ironic given the widening disparity of world household income inequality. In 2000, about 2% of the world's adult population possessed more than 50% of total global wealth, with the richest 1% holding 40% of all global assets (Davies et. al., 2008). In the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK), on the back of the roaring bull market, a wave of neo-liberalism and muted income redistributive policies, the super-rich have swelled their numbers as never before (Haseler, 1999; Irvin, 2008; Lundberg, 1988; Smith, 2001; Thorndike, 1980). The Forbes Billionnaire and The Sunday Times Rich Lists have made transparent the once secretive worlds of the rich. The super-rich are now an identifiable market in their own right. Those wealthy individuals with investable assets greater than US$1 million are now termed ‘High Net Worth Individuals' and these totalled 10.1 million in 2008, with wealth approximating US$40.7 trillion (Merrill Lynch Capgemini, 2009). Given the global market value of this segment of the population, servicing the billionaire, multi-millionaire and ‘meagre' millionaire has become a multi-billion US$ industry. Just as world cities are the ‘basing points' for international capital (Friedmann, 1986), they are the places where the super-rich connect with a bespoke, exclusive and privileged circuit of economic relations in private banking and wealth management. The rest of this chapter will be organised in four main sections. The first section will conceptualise the identifiable traits of the super-rich. Section two defines, quantifies and locates the super-rich in global society, drawing on the new financial discourse of the high net worth market. Section three introduces one of the major privileged world city economies which service's the requirements of the super-rich: private banking and wealth management. Finally, several conclusions are reported, which muses about the super-rich being the super-class in global society.

Conceptualising the super-rich

Historically, there has always been an interest in the wealthy segments of society. Veblen (1899) mused about the existence of a ‘leisure class' in the USA at the end of the Nineteenth Century, and Thorndike's (1980) analysed family dynasties of the Gilded Age (e.g. Astor's, Carnegies, Du Pont's, Getty's, Mellon's). In the USA and UK, these socio-historical studies of the wealthy, dwelt on the existence of wealth accumulated through ‘old' money, inheritance, resource-based wealth, and the land and gentry (North, 2005). However, much has changed since the early 1980s. Increasingly, the source of individual private wealth has grown quickly from ‘new' money and the advent of the ‘self-made' millionaire+, drawn from astronomical executive remuneration packages (share/stock options and salary bonuses), exorbitant returns from financial markets, alternative investments like hedge funds and real estate investment, and significantly, entrepreneurial activity translated in stock-market flotation's (Frank, 2007; Irvin, 2008). Since financial de-regulation in Wall Street and the City of London, aided by relatively low US and UK personal taxation regimes, a new breed, and significant number of, ‘financial elites' (Hall, 2009) have personally benefited from instant wealth creation, from one of the longest bull markets in living memory (Economist, 2009). Running in parallel to the ‘self-made' multi-millionaire and billionaire, the ‘West's' engagement with the rapidly expanding Russian, Chinese and Indian economies, coupled with major price gains in commodities, has also created, “a whole new batch of emerging market plutocrats” (Economist, 2009, 4) and ‘oligarchs', who quickly joined the ranks of the billionaire, super-rich.

The super-rich are a slippery population to pigeon hole in a generic, let alone distinctive, homogeneous social stratum or ‘class' like Sklair's (2001) transnational capitalist class. Collectively, the super-rich have traits of transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and living ‘fast and hyper-mobile lifestyles, which are played out in exclusive circuits of social and capitalist relations. Bauman (2000) refers to the super-rich as the ‘new cosmopolitans', who are the ‘fast subjects' in global society (see Beaverstock et al, 2004). The super-rich occupy a world of exclusiveness, with multiple residences, family-offices to run the household, private security, the use of penthouse suites in five, six, seven star hotels, private jets and bespoke luxury consumption. The life worlds of the USA's super-rich are very eloquently conceptualised by Frank (2007, 3) who suggests that they have,

“…formed their own virtual country … and with their huge numbers, they had built a self-contained world unto themselves, complete with their own health-care system (concierge doctors), travel networks (Netjets, destination clubs), separate economy (double-digit income gains and double-digit inflation), and language (“Who's your household manager?”) … The rich weren't just getting richer, they were becoming financial foreigners, creating their own country within a country, their own society within society, and their economy within an economy”.

Frank named this virtual country, Richi$tan, which is sub-divided into four distinctive virtual-spaces: Lower Richi$tan (net worth $1m-$10m, 7.5m households); Middle Richi$tan (net worth $10m-$100m, >2m households); Upper Richi$tan ($100m-$1b, thousands of households); and billionaireville (over $1b, 400+ households). Prior to Frank (2007), Beaverstock et. al. (2004, 405-406) noted that the super-rich are, “perpetually between nation-states, to the extent that they dwell in global space-time … as key actors in the articulation of the ‘network society'”. However, as we shall note later, an important tangible trait of the super-rich is that they are embedded in particular world cities, as places of multiple residences, and centres of business interests and activities, and, importantly, expert banking, financial and professional service economies which manage and protect their wealth.

Defining and locating the super-rich

1982 was the key moment for a rigorous ‘scientific' identification of the wealthy as it marked the publication of the Forbes first list of the USA's 400 wealthiest individuals. As Smith (2001, 3) notes,

“Most of us were astonished to learn in 1982 that there were twelve American families worth more than $1 billion. There were also twenty-five between $500 million and $1 billion; nearly 100 between $200 and $500; and 267 others among the richest 400 families with net assets (at approximate market value) above $100 million. In those days, billions were numbers that only governments dealt in.”

The Forbes list at that time was dominated by ‘old' money, inherited wealth, manufacturing industrialists, real estate tycoons, traditional bankers and financiers, and natural resource barons (oil, mining), but also included a list of people who were virtually unknown entrepreneurs (like Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart), Philip Knight (Nike shoes) and Steven Jobs (Apple Computers). The Forbes wealthy lists (and later The Sunday Times Rich List, first published in 1988) provided new intelligence on an individual's wealth to a new and burgeoning private wealth management industry from the mid 1980s, which allowed for the refinement of many definitional terms to describe the rich and super-rich, and ultimately, in the 1990s, frame a market for the ‘High Net Worth Individual' (HNWI).There are several definitional characteristics of the rich and super-rich that co-inside with the established financial definitions of HNWIs. For example, Haseler (1999, 2-3) noted three sub-categories of the super-rich: (i) Millionaires – who are, “by no means lavishly well off,” but can maintain their lifestyle without the need to work (in 1996 it is estimated that there were approximately 6 million dollar millionaires, with 3.5m residing in the USA); (ii) Multimillionaires – these are, “at the very lower reaches of the world of the super-rich … [and] … their homes and pensions are included in the calculations”. In 1995 about 1 million US households possessed an average of $7 million, during the same period about 48,000 British households (the top half a per cent) had on average US$2 million. The multimillionaires are highly mobile with homes around the world and the, “literal mobility” of private yachts and aircraft; and, (iii) Mega-rich and Billionaires – a distinction can be drawn between the mega-rich at the lower (<$50m) and upper (>$500m) end of the spectrum where the distinction is not necessarily lifestyle, but economic power. The peak of the mega-rich are the billionaires (US$1000m+).

The wealth management industry began to define the rich and super-rich as a target market in earnest from the mid-1990s. Merrill Lynch Capgemini (MLCG) (2009, 2), who published the World Wealth Reports annually from 1996, defined the high net worth (HNW) market as:

“(i) HHWIs are defined as those having investable assets of US$1million or more, excluding primary residence, collectables, consumables, and consumable durables.
(ii) Ultra-HNWIs are defined as those having investable assets of US$30million or more, excluding primary residence, collectables, consumables, and consumer durables.
(iii) Mid-tier millionaires are HNWIs having US$5million to US$30million”.

Whichever definition is adopted to classify the wealth of the rich and super-rich, it is apparent that once the millionaire and multi-millionaires are identified, there exists a stratospheric gap in social relations and everyday lifestyles of these individuals in relation to the billionaires atop the Forbes' list (which in 2009 ranked: 1. William Gates $40b; 2. Warren Buffett $37b; 3. Carlos Slim Helu & Family $35b; 4. Lawrence Ellison $22.5b; and 5. Ingvar Kamprad & family $22b).

The Size and Composition of the High Net Worth Market

In 2008, the world population of HNWIs stood at 8.6 million, which was down 14.9% from a year earlier due to the global financial crisis (MLCG, 2009). Refering back to 2007, since 1996 there has been more than a doubling of the number of HNWIs worldwide from 4.5 million to 10.1 million (+121.7%) and almost a two and a half fold increase in the value of their private wealth (+145.2%), from US$16.6 to $40.7 trillion (Table 1).

Table 1: The growth of HNWIs worldwide and the value of their wealth, 1996 – 2008. Source: Merrill Lynch Capgemini (2008; 2009).




($ trillions)



































































Turning to the definitional composition of the HNWI sector, the Ultra-HNWI category (>$30 million) has accounted for only about 0.9% to 1.0% of the total number of HNWIs since data collection commenced in 1996 (MLCG, various). In 2008, the UHNWI group represented 0.9% of the population of HNWIs (78,000), but accounted for 34.7% of the total value of private wealth (MLCG, 2009). These data findings indicate very clearly that the global population of HNWIs are dominated by those persons in the ‘millionaire next door' and mid-tier millionaire categories (between $1million and $5 million, and between $5 million and $30 million) (Table 2). At the individual billion level, in 2009 there were 793 which has been reduced by almost 30% (-332 persons) since 2008, with a net loss of private wealth of approximately US$2.0 trillion (Forbes, 2009).

Table 2: The composition of the HNWI private wealth market, 2002-2008. Source: Merrill Lynch Capgemini (2003 to 2009 inclusive).


Percentage of the total population of HNWIs










Ultra-high NWI









Mid-tier millionaire &









‘Millionaire next door'









Total number of HNWI


















Locating the High Net Worth Population

North America and Europe have had the highest share of the total number of HNWIs and value of global private wealth worldwide (by an average of approximately two-thirds for each grand total) (MLCG, various). In 2008, North America and Europe accounted for 5.3 million HNWIs and UHNWIs (62% of the total), and just over half of the distribution of private wealth ($17.4trillion) (MLCG, 2009) (Table 3). Prior to the bust in 2001/02, there has been significant relative growth in the number of HNWIs and value of private wealth in the ‘emerging markets' of the Asian-Pacific (e.g. Singapore, mainland China and India), Latin America and the Middle east (e.g. United Arab Emirates) (Table 3). However, all worldwide regions experienced large reductions in the number of HNWIs and value of private wealth in the fallout of the global financial crisis, with North America experiencing the highest reductions by -19.0% (down 0.6m, from 3.3m to 2.7m) and -22.8% (down $2.6tr, from $11.7tr to $9.1tr) respectively, between 2007 and 2008 (CGML, 2008, 2009).

Table 3: The changing geographical coverage of HNWI and private wealth, 2000-2008. Source: Merrill Lynch Capgemini (2002, 2009).



HNWIs (millions)


Value of private wealth (US$tr)





% growth




% growth

North America



























Latin America









Middle East



























The much publicised 2009 Forbes list of billionaires indicated that the US had the highest share representing 45% (359 billionaires), followed by Europe (25%, 196) and the Asian Pacific (16%, 130). Forbes 2009 data also revealed that New York (55), London (28) and Moscow (27) were the homes to the most billionaires (Forbes, 2009). Five years earlier in 2004, London was the most popular home for the dollar billionaires with 40, followed by New York (31), Moscow (23) and Geneva (20) (figure 1). During the 2000s, London and the south-east of England accounted for an average of 51% of the UK regional distribution of The Sunday Times Rich List wealthiest 1,000 (Table 4). However, according to The Sunday Times Rich List the number of UK billionaires fell by 43% from 75 in 2008 to 43 in April 2009 (2008, 2009). The latest market intelligence from the Centre for Economics and Business Research [CEBR] (2009a) suggests that the number of UK millionaires has fallen 51% from 489,000 in August 2006 to 242,000 in May 2009. Such has been the severity of the global financial crisis on the wealth of the UK's HNWIs, through the collapse of house prices, falling share values and plummeting City bonuses.

Figure 1: The distribution of billionaires, 2004. Source: Ungoed-Thomas (2004).

Table 4: The number and share of the top 1,000 richest persons who were born, live or have their interests centred in London or the South-East of England. Source: The Sunday Times Rich List (2002 to 2009 inclusive; except 2006).



South east of England



489 (48.9%)1



469 (46.9%)1



491 (49.1%)1



503 (50.3%)1





411 (41.1%)

534 (53.4%)1


415 (41.5%)

554 (55.4%)1


385 (38.5%)

506 (50.6%)1

Note: 1. Includes London; NA data not available

London's position as the premier international financial (Z/Yen, 2009) is a significant generator of personal wealth for its employees in banking, finance, insurance and professional service jobs. The much publicised remuneration and bonus packages for City workers, especially investment bankers, is a major factor which has contributed to the exponential growth of ‘new' money, and the location of the ‘new' money super-rich in world cities. At the height of the bull market in 2007, an estimated 354,000 City workers (employed in City type jobs) received bonuses worth £10.241 billion, in ‘stark' contrast to the allocation of ‘only' £4.008 billion to 324,000 in 2008 (Table 5). A similar remuneration and bonus culture is associated with many of the leading international financial centres. For example Wall Street's securities industry divided up $32 billion in bonuses in 2007 (which was down to $18 billion in 2008) (Goldman, 2009).

Table 5: City bonus payouts and employment in City type jobs, 2001-2009. Source: Centre for Economics and Business Research (2009b, 2009c).


City Jobs

City bonus (£billion)




























Other metrics can be used to locate the super-rich. For example, the wealth ‘think tank' estimates that the most expensive streets in the world (per sq/m) were to be found in: Monaco; New York; London; Paris; Hong Kong, and Moscow (Table 6). As most geographers and urbanists seem to be allergic to studying the super-rich, there is a dearth of studies of places where we intuitively know where the super-rich live or have their ‘town' residences, like for example: the London Boroughs of Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea: Mid-town and the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan, New York; Neuilly, Auteuil and Passy in Paris; Bel Air in Los Angeles; Moscow's ‘Golden Mile'district; and Point Piper in Sydney. The super-rich have multiple residences, and anecdotal evidence from sources like The Sunday Times Rich list and Forbes indicate that they have these residences in: world cities (e.g. London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome); offshore ‘havens', like the Caribbean (e.g. Bahamas) and European Principalities (e.g. Monaco and Monte Carlo); the seasonal ‘playgrounds' (e.g. St Moritz and Aspen; and, Cotes d'Azur; Isle of Capri; the Hamptons, Long Island); and isolated retreats (e.g. in the UK context, Scottish estates and Isles, and Country houses in rural counties).

Table 6: The world's most expensive streets. Source: (assessed 060110).



Price per sq/m (£)

Avenue Princess Grace



Chemin de Saint-Hospice

Cap Ferrat, Nice


Fifth Avenue

New York


Kensington Place Gardens



Avenue Montaigne



Via Survretta

St Moritz


Via Romazzino

Porto Cervo (Italy)


Severn Road

Hong Kong


Ostozhenka Street



Wolseley Road



World cities serving the super-rich: Private banking and the wealth management industry

Prior to the financial de-regulation in the USA and the UK in the 1980s, the Anglo-American and European market for individual wealth was serviced almost exclusively by European and American private banks, ‘onshore' in London, New York, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, and ‘offshore' in Geneva, Zurich, Basle, Lausanne, Luxembourg, St Helier and St Peter Port (Channel Islands), Douglas (Isle of Man), Hong Kong, Singapore and numerous centres in the Caribbean (e.g. Georgetown - Cayman Islands, Nassau - Bahamas) (Bicker, 1996). Many of these private banks were steeped in history, headquartered in London or Switzerland, and had office networks which spanned the major onshore and offshore jurisdictions (e.g. ANZ Grindleys [1828]; Bank Sarin & Co [1900]; Citibank [1902]; Coutts & Co [1692]; Lombard, Odier [1798]; UBS [1865]). Competition to traditional private banking gathered pace from the mid-1980s, following financial de-regulation as a new breed of private wealth management firms entered the market to serve ‘new', self-made money, attracted by the rapidly growing HNWI market share (Maude, 2006). This new wealth management sector was established to service a much higher volume HNWI customer base, both on and offshore, offering more extensive services than private banking to accumulate, manage and transfer personal wealth between generations (International Financial Services London [IFSL], 2009). Today, the types of private wealth management services typically involve: brokerage; banking; lending; insurance and protection products; advice (e.g. trusts, inheritance, tax planning); and concierge-type services (e.g. yacht broking, art storage). The private wealth management industry of the Twenty-First Century is a significant global industry, composed of: private banks, who are still the major players in the wealth management market (Table 7); universal banks (e.g. UBS, Credit Swiss); financial advisors; investment banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan) – who service their own HNWI employees; family offices who serve the very UHNWIs and billionaires in the US (there are around 4,500 in the US and Europe); professional services (‘magic circle' law and top accounting firms); and an array of specialist stockbrokers, asset managers and product specialists (e.g. in hedge funds) (Table 8).

Table 7: The world's largest private banks, 2008. Source: International Financial Service London (2009, quoted from Scorpio Partnership, 2009 Private Banking Benchmark Study).


Global assets under management




Bank of Am/M Lynch









Wells Fargo



Credit Suisse



J P Morgan



Morgan Stanley



HSBC Group



Deutsche Bank



Other banks



Table 8: Selected private wealth management firms, 2009. Source: firm websites (various, accessed 070110).

Private banks

Asset Management

Law Firms

Arbuthnot Latham & Co

Aberdeen Asset Man.

Allen & Overy LLP

Adam & Company

AXA Fund Managers

Baker McKenzie LLP

Bank J Safra

Cazenove Capital Man.

Charles Russell LLP

C Hoare & Co

Credit Suisse Asset Man.

Dawson Cornwell

Cater Allen

Fleming Family & Partners

Harcus Sinclair

Duncan Lawrie Ltd

Goldman Sachs Asset Man.

Herbert Smith LLP

Lloyds TSB Private

Lazard Asset Man.

Hughes Fowler Carruthers

SG Hambros Private Bank

Pictet Asset Man.

Macfarlanes LLP

R Raphael & Sons

St James Place

May, May & Merrimans

Weatherbys Bank

Virgin Money Man.

Forsters LLP



Investment Banks

Baker Tilly


Barclays Wealth Management

BDO Stoy Hayward

AXA Art Insurance

Barings Wealth Man. Ltd


Abbey Life Assurance

Citi Private Bank

Ernst & Young

Allianz Insurance plc

Credit Suisse Private Banking

Grant Thornton

Brit Insurance Ltd

HSBC Private Bank

Horwath Clark Whitehall

Chubb Custom Insurance

J P Morgan Private Bank


DAS Legal

Kleinwort Benson Private Bank

Moore Stephens

Hiscox Insurance Company

Morgan Stanley Private Wealth


Markel International

Rathbone Investment Man. Ltd


QBE Insurance


London is one of the leading world cities for expertise in managing private wealth. Its world class reputation is founded on: the UKs regulatory framework and close relationship with offshore jurisdictions (Switzerland, Channel Is., Isle of Man, Hong Kong and Singapore); the range of its financial and professional services; the availability and quality of professional advice; expertise in global and regional financial products (e.g. Islamic finance); and importantly, an international client (HNWI) base (IFSL, 2009). In 2008, London's private wealth management industry: managed UK private client securities by banks, fund managers and stockbrokers valued at £335b; had over 300 family offices with assets over £100m; had the ability to manage both conventional (e.g. cash, bonds, equities) and alternative (e.g. hedge funds) assets; specialised in Islamic financial services; and had expertise in offering advice on trust and taxation matters (IFSL, 2009).

Conclusions … the new super -class?

All world cities, as defined by both John Friedmann (1986) and Anthony King (1990), are playgrounds for the super-rich. These are the places where they live in luxurious accommodation, have their business interests, manage and protect their personal wealth, and engage in conspicuous consumption. In this chapter, the world city's private banking and wealth management industry has been discussed in relation to their coveted clientele, the super-rich. Three important conclusions can be drawn from this brief analysis of the super-rich and their engagement with such exclusive economic financial networks. First, the booming financial market performance of the last twenty years, coupled with the opening up of emerging markets and high rises in commodity prices, has created unprecedented conditions for significant growth in the ranks of the super-rich across the globe, especially in the self-made, billion and multi-millionaire, from ‘new' money sources. Admittedly, the fall out of the global economic crisis has put the brakes on this growth, especially for the ultra-HNWIs, but it will be interesting to note how fast the HNW market will recover in the 2010s. Second, we have witnessed a sea-change in which the super-rich are serviced by banking and financial services. The millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires are now classified as a HNW market by a new private wealth management industry, reflecting the changing social composition of the super-rich from ‘old' to ‘new' money'. Importantly, the information and intelligence provided on the rich by ‘think-tanks' like Merrill Lynch Capgemini are considerably useful in beginning to present a fine grain conceptual analysis of the super-rich, which leads me on to my third point. Third, given the refined data that is available on the size and composition of the HNWI market, it is now possible to make more informed explanations about where individuals of specific wealth bands may be placed in any conceptual schema which teases out the differentiation of the super-rich. For example, as significant numbers of individuals fall within MLCG's millionaire group, one could argue these are more aligned to the characteristics of the ‘new' middle classes (Butler and Savage, 1995). The same may not be appropriate for the mid-tier, millionaires (US$5-30million) who may show distinctive attributes of global- and super-gentrifiers, and financial elites (Butler and Lees, 2006; Hall, 2009). But, there is a cataclysmic gap between the ultra-HNWIs (over US$30m) and the billionaires identified by Forbes, who have wealth in tens of billions. UHNWIs, at the lower-end (say less than US100m), certainly show traits of being highly cosmopolitan, transnational, mobile and engaging in luxury consumption. These are certainly constituent members of the super-rich, unlike the millionaires and mid-tier, multi-millionaires. As for the billionaires, these are certainly the global super-rich, with significant economic power, as noted by Haseler (1999) and Frank (2007).

But, how should we try conceptualise the super-rich (above say US$100m+)? Perhaps, an answer to this conundrum is to refer to the super-rich in global society as the, super-class. Just as Skair (2001) teases out the transnational as being the omnipresent trait of a certain class of capitalist society, the socio-economic and cultural characteristics, and reproduction of the truly global super-rich points to a distinctive and exclusive ‘class' that are worthy of the super pre-fix. Drawing on Frank's (2007) thoughts about Rich$tan, it can be argued that the super-rich are a global super-class, creating their own global society within global society and their own global economy within the global economy. But, at its core, are a network of privileged nodes which have a multitude of connections and flows between them, like: Kensington and Chelsea, and the City in London, and the Upper West/East side and Wall Street in New York City; and Kensington, Chelsea and the City, and Moscow's ‘Golden Mile'.


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* Jonathan V. Beaverstock, School of Geography, The University of Nottingham, UK; email:


Edited and posted on the web on 8th March 2010

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in B. Derudder, M. Hoyler, P.J. Taylor and F. Witlox (eds) (2012) International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar, pp. 378-389.