New Nawabs

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Time was when Indian maharajas would commission bespoke products, such as Hermes saris and Louis Vuitton luggage emblazoned with a peacock. But bespoke means something more for India’s new Raj, the growing club of super-rich people. It’s not just Dior with a desi twist but the rarefied world of bespoke banking with discreet wealth managers rushing to counsel India’s rich set on where to park its millions. The advice can range from investing in stocks to that million-dollar purchase of a private jet. It can extend to newer assets, such as art (that painting will look great on your wall and get you fabulous returns if you sell) or sport (invest your megabucks in an IPL team.) But such a service comes at a price and small change won’t do. If you can’t afford that customized Rolls Royce or at least a mid-range BMW, chances are you don’t qualify. Most private banks offer these services only to those who are, in industry jargon, ‘‘high-net-worth individuals’’ (HNWIs) or people with fortunes of at least $1 million. That’s just investable income; it excludes land and jewellery. With India booming economically, the number of dollar millionaires stood at 1,23,000 last year, according to a recent report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. That’s a staggering growth of 22.8% over the previous year, making India the fastest-growing dollar-millionaire country in the world, ahead of China and Brazil. As expected, India’s wealth-management market is attracting high-profile global players whose business is solely to cater to the super rich. Some of the entrants refuse to take on clients with fortunes below the $10-million mark.


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