THE TRIL­LION DOL­LAR QUESTION

The RICH are get­ting RICHER. Ac­cord­ing to the EXPERTS, it WON’T be long BE­FORE a one-per­center hits 13 DIG­ITS. So, HOW can the REST of us CASH IN?

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a look at who will be the world’s first trillionaire

The first per­son to be­come a trillionaire will be an en­tre­pre­neur work­ing with ar­ti­fi­cial intelligence. That was the pre­dic­tion made by bil­lion­aire Mark Cuban, at a re­cent con­fer­ence in the US. “I’m telling you, the world’s first trillionaires are go­ing to come from some­body who mas­ters AI and all its deriva­tives and ap­plies it in ways we never thought of,” said the star in­vestor at the SXSW Con­fer­ence in Austin, Texas. “What­ever you’re study­ing right now, if you’re not get­ting up to speed on deep learn­ing, neural net­works, etc., you lose. We’re go­ing through the process where soft­ware will au­to­mate soft­ware, au­toma­tion will au­to­mate au­toma­tion.”

He’s not the only one con­tem­plat­ing the tril­lion-dol­lar question: what’s the se­cret to mak­ing 12 ze­ros? A re­cent re­port by Ox­fam set the in­ter­net buzzing when it pre­dicted that Bill Gates will be a trillionaire within the next 25 years, based on the ex­po­nen­tial growth of his cur­rent US$75 bil­lion for­tune (de­spite his best ef­forts to give his money away to char­ity).

It might seem unimag­in­able that one per­son could amass a tril­lion-dol­lar for­tune – the owner of that sum would be wealthy enough to give out US$140 to ev­ery­one on the planet. So far, the word trillionaire isn’t even ac­knowl­edged by your com­puter’s spellchecker. But, those in the know say it’s not only pos­si­ble, but in­evitable – and it will hap­pen sooner than you might think. >

THE WORLD’S FIRST TRILLIONAIRES ARE GO­ING TO COME FROM SOME­BODY WHO MAS­TERS AR­TI­FI­CIAL INTELLIGENCE.

The in­vest­ment bank Credit Suisse pre­dicts in a global wealth re­port that there will be 11 trillionaires within the next two gen­er­a­tions. Mean­while, Sam Alt­man, the pres­i­dent of Y Com­bi­na­tor, the largest start-up in­cu­ba­tor in Sil­i­con Val­ley, has said, “We need to be ready for a world with trillionaires in it. And that’s al­ways go­ing to feel deeply un­fair. It feels un­fair to me. But to drive so­ci­ety for­ward, you’ve got to let that hap­pen.”

There are cur­rently 2043 bil­lion­aires in the world (worth US$7.7 tril­lion in to­tal) ac­cord­ing to Forbes, and the num­ber is only ris­ing. Be­hind Bill Gates is War­ren Buf­fett, Ama­zon’s Jeff Be­zos and Aman­cio Ortega, the founder of Zara. Women make up 11 per cent of the list, and are led by France’s Lil­iane Bet­ten­court, the beauty heiress who owns a third of L’Oréal with her chil­dren.

The 0.1 per cent are get­ting richer. So, who’s likely to en­ter the ‘Four Comma Club’ first?

“The world’s first trillionaire is likely to be some­body who sees po­ten­tial in an in­ven­tion,” says Oliver Wil­liams, head of WealthIn­sight, a com­pany that con­ducts re­search into the habits of the fi­nan­cial elite. “The largest in­ven­tion of our age – the world wide web – didn’t yield a for­tune for its cre­ator, Tim Bern­er­sLee. In­stead, it has been the re­alis­ers of its po­ten­tial who have cashed in on the in­ter­net – Be­zos, Jobs, Page, Brin and Zucker­berg. Al­though, it’s doubt­ful these men will be­come trillionaires as the tech boom shows signs of plateau­ing.”

If not them, then who? “Many Gulf rulers, such as the Saudis, may once have been on the road to trillionaire-dom, but as the fam­ily ex­tends and oil prices slump, this now seems un­re­al­is­tic,” says Oliver. “It’s more likely that the world’s first trillionaire will be self-made, as ap­prox­i­mately 60 per cent of to­day’s bil­lion­aires made their wealth from en­trepreneur­ship, though some may have had a help­ing hand in the form of in­her­i­tance. Per­haps he or she won’t even be in it for the money, but to an­swer some paralysing prob­lem such as global warm­ing, wa­ter short­ages, or sus­tain­abil­ity.”

One of the rea­sons a tril­lion-dol­lar for­tune is pos­si­ble is be­cause money is no longer a phys­i­cal en­tity, thanks to dig­i­tal and cryp­tocur­ren­cies. “So far, we’ve been through two phases of money,” says Neha Narula, di­rec­tor of re­search at the Dig­i­tal Cur­ren­cies Ini­tia­tive, and who gave a TED talk on the topic. “In an ana­logue world we had

WE NEED TO BE READY FOR A WORLD WITH TRILLIONAIRES IN IT… YOU’VE GOT TO LET THAT HAP­PEN.

to deal with these phys­i­cal ob­jects, and money moved at a cer­tain speed – the speed of hu­mans. In a dig­i­tal world, money can reach much far­ther and is much faster.”

Ac­cord­ing to Neha, we’re about to en­ter a new phase of money. “The fu­ture of money is pro­gram­mable,” she says. “When we com­bine soft­ware and cur­rency, money be­comes more than just a static unit of value and we don’t have to rely on in­sti­tu­tions for se­cu­rity. In a pro­gram­mable world, we re­move hu­mans and in­sti­tu­tions from the loop en­tirely.” There’s even spec­u­la­tion the first trillionaire could be Satoshi Nakamoto – the name used by the per­son or group of peo­ple who cre­ated Bit­coin.

So, how will trillionaires man­age all that money? “The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the su­per rich and their wealth man­agers is ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­ti­mate, be­cause ev­ery­thing that af­fects the client’s life – health, fam­ily, work – also af­fects the client’s for­tune,” says Brooke Har­ring­ton, who spent eight years study­ing elite wealth man­agers for her book Cap­i­tal With­out Bor­ders. “So build­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween client and wealth man­ager can some­times take years, in or­der to cre­ate enough trust to dis­cuss the nec­es­sary is­sues.”

Aside from the ob­vi­ous tax re­quire­ments, there are other le­gal obli­ga­tions that bil­lion­aires (and fu­ture trillionaires) have that wealth man­agers as­sist them with. “Wealth man­agers as­sist these clients to pro­tect against all threats to the client’s for­tune,” she says. “In ad­di­tion to taxes, that might include debts – skill­ful wealth man­agers can get their clients out of them in some in­no­va­tive ways, or [get them out of] trade reg­u­la­tions such as em­bar­goes or other limits on com­merce and prof­its.”

If you’re a wealth man­ager who dreams of cater­ing to the su­per rich, you’ll have to break into the in­ner cir­cle. Ac­cord­ing to Brooke’s re­search, there are be­tween 150,000 and 200,000 ul­tra-high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als in the world – that means peo­ple whose in­vestable as­sets (not in­clud­ing the value of their pri­mary res­i­dence) to­tal at least US$30 mil­lion. “They hang out with one an­other,” she says. “They’re on the party cir­cuit be­tween Cannes and the Hamp­tons each year, for ex­am­ple, and they tend to use the same pro­fes­sional ser­vice providers, whether that means physi­cians or wealth man­agers. The soon-to-be first trillionaire is surely al­ready us­ing this ‘grapevine’ re­fer­ral sys­tem.”

So, who wants to be a trillionaire?

IN A DIG­I­TAL WORLD, MONEY CAN REACH MUCH FAR­THER AND IS MUCH FASTER.

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