China’s economic growth rate may have slowed, but the country continues to produce high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) at a startling pace.
The number of Chinese with at least Rmb10m (about $1.5m) in investable assets has soared from approximately 180,000 in 2006 to nearly 1.6m in 2016, a more than eightfold expansion within a decade.
All told, China’s private wealth has swelled to Rmb165tn (about $24tn), more than six times its level in 2006, according to the fifth China Private Wealth Report, developed by Bain & Company in collaboration with China Merchants Bank (CMB).
China’s ever-expanding pool of private wealth is about twice the size of the country’s GDP and represents one of the fastest-growing accumulations of wealth in modern history.
Collectively, China’s HNWIs have about Rmb 49tn (about $7tn) in investable assets, and they have grown more discerning about how, and with whom, they invest that money.
The older generation of wealthier individuals, who were among the first to benefit from the government’s embrace of a market-based economy, tended to manage their money on their own, perhaps with some help from family and friends.
By contrast, newer HNWIs, who often include the sons and daughters of first-generation company founders, are more willing to seek professional advice.
As recently as 2009, just 36 per cent of wealthy Chinese used financial services providers, according to the Bain/CMB survey. Since then, practices have changed markedly.
Today, 63 per cent of China’s wealthy rely on financial services providers to manage their domestic financial assets, and among that group, more than half use private banking services offered by commercial banks.
These trends create tremendous opportunities for banks and other wealth managers, especially those that can fine-tune their offerings to the needs of individuals who are becoming more diverse, more tech-savvy and more internationally minded.
From the outset, China’s private wealth boom has been fuelled by business owners, but as the country’s original company founders age, a new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging, concentrated in high-tech industries.
Some of these tech innovators have reaped financial windfalls by selling their companies to private bidders or by offering shares to the public.
At the same time, private wealth has spread beyond business owners to an expanding class of well-paid executives, managers, engineers, accountants and other professionals, many of whom have also benefited from owning shares in their employers.
These so-called gold-collar professionals constitute one of the fastest-growing cohorts of HNWIs.
They tend to be young, urban and well-educated, and they now account for 29 per cent of China’s HNWIs, more than double their 12 per cent share in 2009.
A steadily increasing number of Chinese HNWIs of all ages are investing overseas.
In 2011, just 19 per cent of HNWIs surveyed had investments outside the mainland. Today, 56 per cent do. Topping the list of the most popular destinations for their money are Hong Kong, the US, Australia, Canada and Singapore.
The most profound transformation occurring among China’s affluent is the way they view wealth itself.
More and more, Chinese HNWIs regard money not just as a source of material wellbeing and social status but as something to be sustained and passed on to their descendants.
Company owners have begun to think seriously about family governance, business succession and estate planning, spurring demand for financial services providers that can assist in these areas.
Both Chinese and non-Chinese banks are learning the importance of being able to serve these wealthy customers, particularly the younger ones, with a high-tech as well as a high-touch approach.
As innovative fintech companies move aggressively into the wealth management market in China, they are raising the bar on the speed and quality of the digital services HNWIs demand from their advisers.
The forces that set in motion a decade of extraordinary private wealth creation in China look poised to continue. A new wave of entrepreneurs has brought a fresh round of innovation to the country’s vast market, spawning new industries and new fortunes.
At the same time, leaders in traditional industries continue to upgrade and expand their businesses. All this activity is likely to mean more IPOs, more mergers and acquisitions and more wealth creation.
The priorities of China’s wealthy will continue to evolve away from a focus on wealth accumulation and towards more of an emphasis on wealth preservation and inheritance, spurring demand for help with estate planning, family governance and business succession.
As the desires of China’s HNWIs become more complex, their willingness to seek advice is growing, creating opportunities for financial services providers that are adroit enough to serve their evolving needs.
Jennifer Zeng and John Ott are partners in Bain & Company’s Financial Services practice, based, respectively, in Beijing and Shanghai.