Apparently so say Oxfam the wealthiest 1% of the worlds population will soon own more of the worlds wealth than the other 99%.
Predictably, its a statistic that has prompted much debate about global inequality. But far less evident was to me a much more interesting topic: how to actually become one of the worlds wealthiest 1%.
Yes, Im self-centred, I know.
Yet theres a very serious point to be made. Because statistically, you may already be in that 1%. For, according to the BBC, all it takes to join the 1% magic circle is net assets of around half a million pounds.
So if you and your partner live in a mortgage-free house worth 1 million, with savings or investments on top, then welcome to the club. Or, if youre on your own, and youve got savings plus a mortgage-free house or apartment totalling 500,000, then yet again welcome to the club.
Real wealth isnt housing wealth
All of which goes to prove Oxfams point, I guess: the worlds wealth is unequally distributed.
Because you probably dont feel especially wealthy. Whats more and Im making a wild guess here youd probably like to be rather wealthier.
As we all know, while a mortgage-free house or apartment technically counts as wealth, you cant spend it if you lose your job or become unwell. Nor without the hassle of taking in lodgers will a house pay the bills when you retire.
In other words, even if youre in Oxfams 1%, theres a lot of sense in building up a decent portfolio of non-housing wealth.
Financial wealth, in short. Wealth that you can use to pay the bills when times are hard, or you retire.
Times have changed
In which case, Ive some pleasant news for you. Building this wealth has never been easier.
Thats right: for the typical retail investor thats you its never been easier to potentially accumulate wealth.
So if youre not yet in the magic 1%, your chances of doing so are better than ever. Likewise, if you are in the 1% but would like to climb a little higher up the rankings, then yet again, fortune is smiling on you.
How come? Lets take a look.
Ive been investing in the stock market since I was 19 in other words, for over 40 years. And over that time, Ive seen enormous changes. Changes that work in favour of retail investors.
Take the rise of the execution only stockbroker, for instance. If youre relatively new to investing, youve probably never dealt with any other sort of broker. But imagine staid, wood-panelled offices, paper-intensive systems and charges to match.
As I type these words, for instance, I have in front of me an old contract note from 1992, for the purchase of 300 shares in Marks and Spencer, worth 975. The commission? A whopping 31 which back then was worth rather more in terms of purchasing power than it is today.
These days, you can do the same trade for around a tenner or even 2.50 or so, if you take advantage of your brokers bulk buy consolidated purchase days.
And thats just one example. There are plenty more.
Think about fund supermarkets businesses such as Hargreaves Lansdown, for instance. Before the arrival of fund supermarkets, investors had to pay an upfront commission of 4-5% when buying into investment funds.
So invest 1,000, say, and immediately youd be 50 down, with an investment worth 950. No longer, as fund supermarkets rebate either all, or nearly all, the upfront commission that you would otherwise have to pay. Invest 1,000, in short, and youd still have your full 1,000 working for you.
Index trackers are another example. Twenty years ago, when they first arrived in the UK, annual tracker charges of 1% were common. While some trackers stayed at that level, the most competitive tracker products gradually drifted down to 0.30% to 0.5%.
But now, you can pay as little as 0.09% or less than one-tenth of the 1% charge that investors used to think represented good value.
And so on, and so on.
What to make of all this? Simply that in todays investing world, retail investors have more options available to them, pay lower charges and get to keep more of their own money.
Put another way, with less being raked off by intermediaries, the process of wealth accumulation steps up a gear.
Every year your net gains are higher, with more of your wealth working for you, not your broker or investment fund manager. Its compound growth, but at a higher growth rate.
And if that wont help you join the 1%, I dont know what will.
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Malcolm owns shares in Marks and Spencer. The Motley Fool has recommended shares in Hargreaves Lansdown.