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Shifting attitudes; shaping societies

Withersworldwide’s report notes that many want to see wealthy people engage more directly, openly and actively in the debate around the better uses of wealth in society
Global Business Development and Marketing Director, Withersworldwide


GLOBAL perceptions of wealth are changing, as are the roles that holders of wealth are expected to play in shaping the future of our world. In 2019, Withersworldwide gathered the views of high-profi le global opinion formers in its inaugural Attitudes to Wealth report to present a timely, in-depth exploration of how the wealthy are perceived and where the opportunities lie to leverage success to generate meaningful changes to society.

Looking ahead, the report also serves as a start to a meaningful debate in a time when there is a mix of admiration, envy and resentment towards holders of wealth, and as a guide to how the wealthy can make a vital difference to our shared future.


Globally, some observations made by our opinion formers, based in Asia, North America and Europe, presented notable similarities in how different societies perceived wealth and the wealthy. It is widely agreed that living standards have improved in the past few decades. While the extent of the improvement could be debated, the consensus is that there has undoubtedly been progress.

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While the importance of HNWIs in solving global issues is generally agreed upon, the accelerating inequality of wealth is noted as a growing concern worldwide. The concentration of global wealth in fewer and fewer hands has led to a greater unease that it presents too much political infl uence for those individuals.

Around the world, perhaps unsurprisingly, the wealthy are expected to make fair fi nancial contributions to society, whether in the form of paying tax or undertaking philanthropy. Beyond fi nancial contributions, they are also expected to utilise any unique skills they possess as an individual or corporation to benefi t wider communities.

Leveraging their skills, they could help address a variety of challenges, from tackling poverty, raising educational standards, combating climate change, and even addressing the perceived opportunities/threats associated with the growth of automation.


While there were similarities in how societies perceived wealth and the wealthy, stark differences were also noted in how they are seen in Asia and the West, such as the perceptions of wealth inequality and how businesses are run.

Notably, in Europe and the US, wealth inequality serves as a source of tension in society, taking the form of suspicion of the wealthy and criticism of their motives. By contrast, generating wealth is considered an aspiration by most in Asia, and there is greater optimism that economic growth will lead to happier societies. The wealth inequality gap, notably in China and India, is seen as a hurdle many wish to overcome.

In terms of business, the economic activities of the wealthy are more visible in Asia as compared to the West. People can see what the wealthy are doing and the business they are generating, whereas in other parts of the world, wealth is tied up in discreet, less visible assets. This also leads to the trickle-down effects of wealth being more evident in Asian communities.


Across the different countries in Asia, there were further differences observed in the attitudes to wealth and the wealthy, such as how contributions to society by the wealthy should be carried out.

In China, there is a clear government push for wealthy people to give back to society. In India, philanthropy is considered essential for the wealthy, especially in communities stricken by extreme poverty.

In Japan, there is greater emphasis on harmony and a desire to avoid conspicuous wealth possession, leading to more discreet fi nancial contributions.

Tax as a fi nancial contribution in Asian countries, however, was considered as more of a cost of business and citizenship that should be minimised where possible, with the social responsibility of supporting the state not strongly felt.

Our opinion formers also observed a notable generational difference in the perceptions of wealth in Asia. There is a sense of the younger generation seeking to engage their newly inherited wealth with more progressive trends, therefore creating pressure through generations of families. This pressure was also observed between employers and employees, as seen in Hong Kong, where a company would not be able to secure the best millennial hires if it did not appear to be socially responsible.


Ultimately, the key conclusion that emerged from our conversations with global opinion formers was the desire to see wealthy people engage more directly, openly and actively in the debate around the better uses of wealth in society. Going into 2020, holders of wealth should welcome and fi rmly grasp this open invitation to join the debate on how their wealth should be utilised to shape the future of their communities and wider society. W