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China mints two new billionaires a week as Asia is set to overtake US as billionaire hotspot

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Leading the way: Alibaba chairman Jack Ma at a conference in Yunqi Cloud Town in Hangzhou, China. Photo: VCG/Getty

China is set to overtake the US as the global hub for billionaires, according to a new report from UBS and PwC.

China now has the highest concentration of billionaires outside the US, according to the “Billionaires insight” report released on Friday. There are 475 billionaires in Greater China, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, and 373 within mainland China. That compares to 631 in the US.

UBS and PwC’s report, “New visionaries and the Chinese century”, highlights the speed with which new billionaires are emerging in China.

In 2006, there were just 16 billionaires in China. Last year, 106 new billionaires were created — equivalent to over two new billionaires each week. Josef Stadler, head of ultra high-net-worth at UBS Global Wealth Management, called the growth “astonishing” at a launch event in London on Friday.

The report is the fifth edition of Billionaire Insights. Stadler said when the report first started, they “had to happily accept that the US was driving growth globally, and all the other time zones were just tagging along.”

Now, “Asia, China dominate. The capitalist train that left the station now seems unstoppable,” he said.

UBS and PwC forecast that Asia will overtake the US as a hotspot for global billionaires within three years. The number of billionaires in Asia is growing at a rate of 14% year-on-year, compared with just 5% in the US.

Addressing the speed at which China is gaining on the US when it comes to wealth creation. Stadler said: “What we have seen in the past is Silicon Valley invents, China copies. Now what we see is China develops and exports.

“They do this by leapfrogging. To give you an example, in payment systems China is far ahead of the US. Credit cards are stone age. Paying with mobile is now de rigeur. Now you’ve got payment by face recognition.”

About 97% of China’s billionaires are self-made, with the majority working in tech or retail. Famous Chinese billionaires include Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who is worth nearly $34bn, according to Forbes.

Stadler said in a statement accompanying the report: “China’s vast population, technology innovation and productivity growth combined with government support, are providing unprecedented opportunities for individuals not only to build businesses but also to change people’s lives for the better.”

Asian billionaires are the youngest globally, with an average age of 61.43. The average age is 55.75 in Greater China.

Ravi Raju, head of Asia Pacific ultra high-net-worth at UBS Global Wealth Management, said: “Asia’s billionaires are young and relentless. This cohort is overwhelmingly self-made and determined to capitalise on one of history’s greatest moments for new enterprise.”

The report quotes an unnamed Chinese billionaire as saying: “Nowhere else in the world can you find better conditions for growth than in China.”

However, UBS and PwC also highlight “the risks of doing business in China,” as well as the opportunities. While 106 people became new billionaires last year, there were just 55 net new billionaires in China as 51 people’s net worth dropped below a billion.

UBS and PwC’s report found there are 2,158 billionaires globally. Collectively, their wealth increased by $1.4bn last year to $8.9bn — the largest absolute increase in billionaire wealth in history.