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Why the rich stay rich: they don’t invest like the rest

About the author

Bryan Borzykowski is a Toronto-based business writer and editor. He writes about personal finance, wealth issues and other money topics for BBC Capital and also contributes to the New York Times, CNBC, CNNMoney, Canadian Business and the Globe and Mail. He’s written three investing and personal finance books, too. Follow him on Twitter @bborzyko. 

  • Getting and staying rich...

    When many of us have a little cash to invest, we might buy a mutual fund or a stock — if we don’t blow it on the latest tech gadget. Not the truly wealthy, however. They often put their money in property, art, businesses and other investments that the rest of us can only dream of owning. How this rarified group uses their cash differentiates them from the rest of us — and keeps them in the black.

    Take Joshua Coleman, for example. When his family sold their Chicago-based telecom company for $400m in 2004, they didn’t run out and buy something extravagant. Instead, they began seeking advice on ways to save their newfound riches and help them grow.

    Their quest sparked an idea for Coleman, now 27. In 2011, he launched Momentum Advanced Planning — a firm that connects people to tax, legal and wealth experts. If the business one day sells, he could see a big return, just like his family’s first business.

    If you think that starting a business is an odd way to invest your money, then you probably aren’t among the ultra-wealthy. People who have at least $30m in assets — dubbed ultra high net-worth — invest in stocks and bonds, but they also grow their money by buying companies and investing in unusual securities, such as airline leasing funds. They also own art and cars that they hope will appreciate in value.

    “It’s called alpha risk,” said Coleman. “It’s this kind of stuff where there can be a lot of upside.”

    As for the downside, many of these investments are riskier than traditional investments, so there’s a higher chance of losing a large chunk of change. As well, they’re far less liquid than stocks and it could talk months or years for the wealthy to get their money out of an investment.

    Even if you don’t have millions to invest, though, you can learn a thing or two about how the rich reap returns and apply it your own portfolios.

    Scroll through the images above to see how the rich invest to stay rich — and how you might model their style.

    (Thinkstock)

  • Rich-only investments? Perhaps...

    The wealthy have access to a swath of investments that most people don’t even know exist.

    Closed-end funds — a long-term investment where money is typically tied up for at least five years — offer the very rich access to big returns and high yields.

    Aircraft leasing is one budding area of investment, said Ian Marsh, CEO of asset management for London-based Fleming Family and Partners, a wealth management firm that was initially created to preserve the fortune of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

    His clients work with a company called Doric, which uses investor money to buy planes which are leased to large airlines, such as Dubai-based Emirates Airlines.

    Investors will eventually cash out of the fund when those planes are sold, but they can make a 9% annual yield in the meantime from the leases alone. The average yield on the Standard and Poor’s S&P 500 — America’s main investing benchmark stock basket — is about 3%.

    Some closed-end funds require hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy in, but Doric’s airline leasing funds have a more reasonable entry fee, says Marsh. Its SKY CLOUD series of funds — which buy Airbus A380-800s and leases them to Emirates Airlines — have a minimum investment of 10,000 euro ($13,822) and 5% one-time fee that is based on how much investors put in.

    Ultra high-net worth investors in the UK and elsewhere are also buying up farmland. As the global population grows, demand for food will also increase and those who own prime agricultural land could see good returns, said Marsh. Arable land is a finite resource —the harder something is to come by the better the return.

    According to Marsh, good land can earn a yield of about 4% a year for an investor, plus appreciate in value over time. Few regular investors can afford to invest in a plane fund or buy a plot of rich farmland, but there are some more-accessible closed-end funds that offer a way to invest in global infrastructure, even wine. There are also some publicly listed companies that people can buy on the stock market. For instance, Gladstone Land is a US-listed company that buys farmland.

    (Simin Wang/AFP/Getty)

  • Buy more businesses, of course...

    It’s a natural for wealthy individuals, many of whom made their money owning companies, to buy into other businesses. Coleman invests in a number of other companies, mostly in the professional services and tech sectors. He has a stake in so many operations that he can’t give an exact number.

    “It’s a lot,” he said.

    He’s usually investing with a group of investors and a private equity firm, and he’ll invest more than $1 million to get a piece of an operation.

    It’s fun to see companies go from nothing to something and many investors have the experience and networks to help get a business off the ground, said David Rose, a New York-based ultra-wealthy entrepreneur and author of Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun in Startups.

    “Imagine investing in Google when they were still in their trailer,” he said. “You can meet the founders on a weekly basis, get a first hand look at what’s happening and see it grow. That can be a lot of fun.”

    It can also be lucrative. Though investors put their money at risk — 50% of startup companies go bust, said Rose — a wealthy investor usually makes 20 times to 50 times their initial investment on one or two companies that do succeed.
    Rose usually puts between $50,000 and $100,000 in a company, and he said he has made millions off some of his investments.

    At the moment, it’s difficult for the average investor to invest directly in a business, unless they hand over some money to a friend or family member, says Rose.

    However, a new piece of US legislation, passed in 2012, may allow regular people to invest in startups. It’s not yet clear how this will play out.

    (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Play up pricey passions...

    “Passion” investments, such as art, cars, watches, wine and even musical instruments, are big among the rich, said Guy Hudson, executive director and head of business development at London’s Stonehage Investment Partners, a global wealth management firm.

    While people want these assets to grow in value, they’re also buying them to either use or look at.

    “These investments always arise from the investor’s passion for that particular object,” said Hudson.

    For investors who buy the right passion investments — finding something rare is key here — they can see solid returns. According to his company’s research, the value of “investments of passion” rose by nearly 15% in 2013, said Hudson.

    There are several ways for regular investors to buy passion investments, says Hudson. A wine fund sold by The Wine Investment Fund requires a minimum 10,000 euro ($13,822) investment, for instance, and there are other funds that focus on art and cars. Take note: some may require the investor to be accredited, so even if the initial fee is low, you may not be able to purchase the fund.

    You can also buy art for affordable prices at auction. “Up and coming artists will sell their pieces at reasonable rates,” he said.

    (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Fuelling a hunger for property...

    Many high-net-worth people like parking their cash — often seven or eight figures — on pieces of property, said Paul Patterson, deputy chair at Toronto’s RBC Wealth Management.

    Some pool their money with others to buy commercial properties; others scoop up high-priced condos in London, New York and other global locales.

    Many hope to sell for a handsome profit, but in the meantime, they can live in these abodes when they travel, he said. “They typically buy two or three residences in difference places around the world,” he said. “It’s got great long-term value, especially in core markets.”

    While the average person likely won’t be able to buy a condo in a posh New York area, they may be able to buy a house in their neighborhood that they can then rent out or sell when the price appreciates.

    There are also many public companies that buy commercial and residential real estate — called Real Estate Investment Trusts — that any stock market investor can purchase. While they’ll be sensitive to market ups and downs, the stocks often rise in price as rents and property values climb.

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