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Did the ultra-rich get richer during the pandemic?

Discover whether ultra-rich individuals were able to grow their wealth during the global pandemic and read an analysis of the Ultra High Net Worth market.

Published on 9 August 2021
Written by Simon Christian
Simon Christian

Despite COVID-19, wealth soared for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals

Billionaires competing against one another in a race for space. A new "palace" in Knightsbridge which could, according to The Guardian, be worth GBP500 million. A divorce worth almost half a billion settled after more than five years, as reported by the Financial Times. These billionaires are in the news at a time when the world economy is just starting to recover from the effects of Covid-19. But did ultra-wealthy individuals increase their wealth during the global pandemic?

The number of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (with investable assets of more than USD30 million) around the world has certainly increased. Forbes data shows 493 “new billionaires” around the world this year, and Wealth-X data says the global Ultra High Net Worth population grew by 1.7% in 2020 to nearly 300,000 individuals.

The Knight Frank Wealth Report puts these figures even higher, with its estimate of the number of worldwide Ultra High Net Worth Individuals rising by more than 12,000 to 521,653 between 2019 and 2020. 

These Ultra High Net Wealth individuals are, on average, richer since the beginning of the pandemic. Forbes data suggests that 86% of billionaires on its list are wealthier than they were the year before, and nearly half of respondents to Knight Frank’s Attitudes Survey said their ultra-wealthy clients’ net worth had increased since last year against just 24% who said it had decreased.

Ultra High Net Worth Individuals in the United States

The ultra-wealthy would also appear to be getting a larger slice of the pie in terms of total wealth distribution. US Federal Reserve data shows that the household wealth of the top 1% of Americans grew from USD31.23 trillion in Q1 2020 to USD41.52 trillion in Q1 2021; during the same period, the wealth of the bottom 50% of Americans grew from USD1.92 trillion to USD2.62 trillion, a gain of USD700 billion compared with a gain of USD10.2 trillion for the top 1%.

Rising asset prices in a challenging economy

Ultra-rich individuals and families, with access to the best investment and strategic advice and a long-term view of wealth accumulation and preservation, were particularly well positioned to weather the economic effects of the pandemic, and the strong performance of equities and other investment assets has clearly helped them to grow their wealth in a time of wider economic turmoil.

Prime real estate values fell slightly in markets where travel bans limited the flow of inward investment, but the luxury property market as a whole grew by 1.9% in 2020, according to Knight Frank’s Prime International Price Index, and demand in some of the wealthiest cities in the world such as London, New York, Dubai and other prime residential markets was predicted to bounce back with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Ultra High Net Worth Individuals whose wealth is mainly held in equities will have seen these investments perform particularly well during the pandemic. After a sharp fall in March and April 2020, monetary stimulus, historically low interest rates and massive government intervention to support operating businesses has seen equities rise to new all-time highs even as global GDP fell and unemployment rose. The S&P 500 and MSCI World Index both finished 2020 up around 16%.

The need for sophisticated Ultra High Net Worth financial advisors

More UHNW individuals holding greater wealth means an increasing demand for professional advisers and legal providers who have sophisticated expertise in international private wealth and the management of private wealth. Expertise in Family Office matters will be particularly valuable to these clients. In 2019 there were more than 7,000 Single Family Offices managing around USD six trillion in assets, and it must be assumed that these numbers have grown in line with the overall rise in UHNW and billionaire populations.

Analysing leading providers of Ultra High Net Worth services

Chambers High Net Worth covers, in unmatched depth and with unparalleled accuracy, the leading lawyers, accountants, bankers, fiduciaries and wealth managers working for the global ultra-wealthy. Our dedicated High Net Worth research team conducted more than 10,000 interviews with leading players in worldwide private wealth for the 2021 guide alone, and these interviewees’ insights form the backbone of our market-leading rankings and commentary.

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