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How Long Before Billionaires Lose Their Wealth?

(Bloomberg) -- Once a billionaire, not always a billionaire.

Most of the world’s richest families 20 years ago have seen their fortunes shrink in the intervening decades, according to a report from UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers. More than half, or 56%, of people with at least $1 billion in net worth in 1995 were not in that bracket as of 2014, the study said.

"Great wealth is volatile — highly volatile," says Michael Spellacy, a senior partner at PwC.

Of the 289 billionaires in 1995, 126 remain in the group. Of the 163 who dropped out, 24 saw their wealth diluted among family members, 66 lost it to death and taxes, and 73 saw fortunes decline due to business failures and other issues, the report said.

New billionaires more than replaced those who lost their riches. UBS and PwC gathered data on 1,300 billionaires globally, more than 1,000 of them minted since 1995. The majority derived their money from finance, technology or the consumer and retail industries over the past two decades.

Another report by the firms in May found that more than two-thirds of billionaires are over the age of 60 and most have at least two children. "That second generation is really critical to whether the wealth is maintained," says John Mathews, head of private wealth management for UBS Wealth Management Americas. "The right business acumen and family governance is really important."


While most of 1995’s billionaires lost money, the rest did quite well. They’ve seen their wealth quadruple to an average of $11 billion, from $2.9 billion 20 years ago, with their assets outperforming equity markets. Many held onto all or part of the family business that is the source of their wealth, and they re- invested in the companies, Spellacy said.

This year, the world’s richest 400 people have lost an estimated $166 billion, or 4.1% of their combined fortune, as stock markets have lost ground and wealth derived from commodities such as oil has declined, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. As of Dec. 14, their estimated net worth was a combined $3.89 trillion.

Women are taking on more decision-making for family businesses and investment strategy, UBS and PwC also found. While men vastly outnumber the women worth at least $1 billion, women billionaires are growing at a faster rate. About 80% of the richest women inherit or marry into their wealth, the study found, but a growing percentage are self-made, especially in Asia.

"We expect more and more self-made women billionaires in the future," Mathews says.

--With assistance from Jeffrey Vögeli and Jack Witzig.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.