In the wake of JK Rowling slipping off Forbes Billionaires List, Freddy Barker asks how accurate are rich lists anyway
Pick up a paper today and you'll read about JK Rowling slipping off the Forbes billionaires list. According to the magazine, ‘New information about Rowling's estimated $160 million in charitable giving combined with Britain's high tax rates bumped the Harry Potter scribe from our list this year.’
All I say to that is 'Hogwarts'. I know nothing about Rowling's finances but I do know about rich lists, and their estimates are typically way off.
'There is about $10-20 trillion of private wealth sitting offshore,' Nicholas Shaxson, author of bestselling Treasure Islands, tells me. 'Most of that is held in some form of secrecy arrangement.
'Not only that,' he continues, 'but a lot of this wealth is held in slippery creations like discretionary trusts, where the assets have, literally and legally speaking, no identifiable owner. For this reason alone, the rich lists are based on a heavy dose of guesswork.'
So it seems that rule no. 1 for private client advisors really is to keep their information private. Bandish Gudka, Vestra Wealth’s rising star, informs me that it's not just that the disclosure of data outside legal and regulatory requirements is widely prohibited under strict confidentiality clauses, it's also that excellent client service means treating any information provided as confidential.
It’s therefore hard to believe that anyone has a firm handle on wealth estimates. There’s an entire industry out there devoted to obfuscating the structures of the super rich and it’s not for nothing that, on the Scorpio Partnership’s estimates, it generates over £30 billion in revenue every year.