The costs of bringing such expertise in-mansion means that they generally make sense only for those worth over $100m, the top 0.001% of the global pile. Asian tycoons such as Jack Ma of Alibaba have created their own fiefs. The largest Western family offices, such as the one set up by George Soros, an investor and philanthropist, oversee tens of billions and are as muscular as Wall Street firms, competing with banks and private-equity groups to buy whole companies.
These trends are unlikely to fade, as our Briefing explains. The number of billionaires is still growing—199 newbies made the grade last year. In the emerging world older entrepreneurs who created firms in the boom years after 1990 are preparing to cash out, while in America and China younger tech entrepreneurs may soon float their companies, releasing a new wave of cash to reinvest. Family offices’ weight in the financial system, therefore, looks likely to rise further. As it does, the objections to them will rise exponentially. The most obvious of these is the least convincing—that family offices have created inequality. They are a consequence, not its cause. Nonetheless, there are concerns—and one in particular that is worth worrying about.