The sixth edition of the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2015 offers a portrait of the world’s wealth. Besides affirming that global inequality has grown, the study had some interesting findings about the regions it covered, especially in Africa. Since 2000, the rate of growth of millionaires in Africa was faster than the global average, by a factor of four to 126,000 behind only India and China, which grew to 185,000 and 1.3 million millionaires respectively. The findings are supported by a similar report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. In World Wealth Report 2015, Africans with at least $1 million of investable assets are reported to have climbed to 150,000 in 2014, up by 5.2%, while their combined wealth increased by 7% to $1.44 trillion.
Between 2000 and 2015, the Credit Suisse report noted that the wealth of those above the lower-middle-class threshold in Africa had grown by 140% compared to a global average of 113%. It states that adults with wealth beyond the middle class threshold accounted for a further $793 billion, bringing the total wealth of the middle class and beyond to $1.6 trillion, or 0.7% of global wealth. Such detailed and insightful revelations are rare. More importantly, they suggest that the continent’s recent gains are not a myth. Africa rising is real.
That said, the emerging wealth comes with the need for good advice. For that reason, I believe the time is now for private banking, wealth management and asset management in Africa. Although it is less understood than traditional methods of investing, wealth managers should prepare to deliver guidance to these freshly minted high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs). This is necessary. As the proverb says: Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter. Well, wisdom and knowledge will be needed. The opportunity is for wealth managers to serve as trusted investment advisors and as educators.
Just as important, these advisors will provide guidance on meaningful social impact activities, like giving back to society and creating entrepreneurial opportunities. This is vital in Africa where wealth inequality is so high. Credit Suisse reports that some Africans are among the top global wealth decile, and even among the top percentile. In fact, the region is more concentrated in the bottom end of the global wealth spectrum, with more than 40% of African adults belonging to the two lowest global wealth deciles. Seychelles, for instance, has a Gini index of 94.8 or near perfect inequality. Libya, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Egypt are among the top 10 most unequal states in the region. In all, wealth managers have a critical role to play.
It is critical that policymakers fast track legislation allowing African funds to invest across the continent, as a means to provide investment channels for African wealth managers spread the risk. There is urgent need to deepen the roughly 30 recognized stock exchanges in the region for HNWIs to gain local financial markets exposure. In the past, Africa’s HNWIs dealt with bankers in New York, the Channel Islands, Geneva or London and invested abroad. This is likely to change soon. It is good to note that some international operators have already seen the opportunity. Specialist wealth managers, such as Pictet Asset Management and UBS, are notable examples. Locally, firms such as Stanlib and Ecobank are leading the way.
There is no doubt that significant wealth creation has occurred in Africa. This is a new dawn, wealth managers need to dump the pessimism and jump in.