Wealth Management: Pickings get richer

Banks and financial consultants, from the venerable to the brash, are queuing up to handle the cash and investments of a burgeoning elite - those ultra-wealthy citizens at the apex of the economy. David Bain reports.

If the 10 years of the Tony Blair government will be remembered around the world for the Iraq war, on the home front it's likely to be for overseeing an unprecedented surge in the number of wealthy individuals in the UK. An inter- esting legacy for a Labour party prime minister, some might say. The power and influence of the nation's billionaires, multi-millionaires and mere millionaires is growing fast - as are their numbers. There are now nearly 500,000 people in Britain with £500,000 or more in the bank, not counting their primary property.

Bankers call these people high net worth individuals (HNWIs), and their numbers grew by 8.1% in 2006, according to the annual Merrill Lynch Capgemini World Wealth Report. But HNWIs are at the bottom of the new wealth pyramid. Those with £15m beyond their primary property - the ultra-high net worth individuals - number more than 5,000. And those right at the tip of the pyramid - the richest 1,000 - have a combined wealth of at least £360bn, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. To become a member of this club, you'll need at least £70m.

Ten years ago, the combined value of the 1,000 wealthiest people was just shy of £100bn - so their wealth has increased by more than 260% in a decade. As the Rich List's creator since 1989 (and author of MT's annual Top 100 Entrepreneurs ranking), Philip Beresford has been ideally placed to observe this wealth explosion. 'UK billionaires, Russian oligarchs or Indian tycoons, they have never had it so good,' he says. Never was so much wealth accumulated by so few in such a short time.

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