Europe has emerged as the richest region in the world, pushing North America, where wealth has declined by more than 20 percent due to the economic crisis, off the top spot, a study has shown.
The world's richest also feel the recession biting, especially in North America, where the financial crisis first unfolded a year ago, reveals a survey on global wealth carried out by the Boston Consulting Group Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm.
North America's wealth, measured in assets under management, plummeted by 21.8 percent, the steepest decline in the world. A lesser fall was registered in Europe, where assets shrunk by 5.8 percent compared to last year, down to €22.2 trillion—a quarter of the globe's total wealth.
The number of millionaire households worldwide fell from 11 million to about 9 million—a drop of 17.8 percent. The decline was steepest in North America and Europe, at 22 percent in both regions, although the United States continues to have the most millionaire households—nearly 4 million.
The crisis also narrowed the gap between the wealthy and non-wealthy. Wealth owned by households with less than €90,000 in assets under management increased by two percent in 2008, but it declined in all other segments. Among households with more than €4.5 million in assets under management, wealth fell by 21.5 percent.
Switzerland remained the largest offshore financial centre, accounting for more than €1.5 trillion or 28 percent of the world's tax havens. But increased regulatory scrutiny is putting pressure on offshores that have based their edge primarily on tax avoidance. "Once their tax and legal advantages evaporate, so too will their appeal," Peter Damisch, co-author of the report, said in a press release.
Some nontraditional offshore centres—including several outside Europe—remain poised for growth. Singapore and Hong Kong, in particular, will continue to benefit from their proximity to other Asian countries, where wealth is expected to stage a faster recovery.
The wealth management industry has weathered the storm better than most other financial-services sectors, but still their profits fell by more than six percent compared to last year. Stung by losses and scandals, clients shifted their assets to basic, low-margin investments.
"Dazzling product complexity is no longer seen as a positive attribute—if it ever really was," said Bruce Holley, another co-author of the study.