India has a growing number of millionaires — there currently are 200,000 Indians worth a million dollars or more (about 68m rupees). It’s not surprising, given India’s large population and the meteoric rise in its economic fortunes in the past two decades.
With this many millionaires, India is home to the 12th largest population of high-net-worth individuals — that is, those with investable assets of $1m or more. Although this number is relatively low compared to the size of the population, India is home to the fourth-highest number of billionaires in the world (84, with a combined net worth of around $248 billion, according to Forbes).
This rise in the rich has spawned an industry that fusses over its wealthy and finicky clientele
This rise in the rich has spawned a growing industry that fusses over its wealthy and finicky clientele. These businesses offer top-notch services tailored exclusively to the exacting standards of the ultra-wealthy, their unique tastes and lifestyles. From matchmaking to private jets and from lifestyle management to expensive fine art, no matter how eccentric the demand, no request is too outlandish.
Like millionaires elsewhere, India’s rich “want access to the best things in life, but don’t have the time, nor the connections, to acquire them,” says Tanu Jain, head of marketing at the Gurgaon office of Quintessentially Lifestyle, a firm that offers round-the-clock personalised concierge services for its ultra-wealthy members.
Whether it’s Formula One action in Monaco, or the glamour of red carpets at Cannes, the company can arrange a VIP ticket
Whether it’s Belgium’s Tomorrowland music festival, Formula One action in Monaco, or the glamour of red carpets at Cannes, the company can arrange a VIP ticket to the best and most exclusive events worldwide, says Jain.
“We have an unparalleled network of contacts allowing us to source the most elusive of items from anywhere in the world,” says Jain who’s helped clients secure “an autographed Roger Federer Tennis racquet, and a limited edition John Lennon pen, as a surprise for a loved one.”
“India’s super-rich want things that can create memories for a lifetime,” says Jain, whose company has organised “a romantic meal on an iceberg for a couple,” and “an anniversary surprise in Paris with five hundred roses,” for its members.
When serving a small community where word travels fast, nothing is left to chance. Each HNWI client is assigned a personal “lifestyle manager” who painstakingly “studies the behaviour of each member — their likes, dislikes, preferences — and accordingly recommends a personalised solution for each request,” says Jain.
The sky is the limit
India’s millionaires are people in a hurry with little time or patience for mass transport. “The new generation of Indian HNWIs wants to save time,” says Delhi-based Atiesh Mishra, vice president of operations and business development at Ligare Aviation Limited, a private air charter service. “They don’t want the hassles of flying a commercial airline.”
This has spawned the world’s fastest growing aviation market by frequency of flights, according to a KPMG report. A rise in private jets and charter services has contributed to this growth. In recent years, many start-ups have sprung up in India’s chartered aviation sector. Companies like BookMyCharters, JetSetGo, and JetSmart allow high fliers to book private jets online.
Some of the more eccentric demands have included asking the pilot to circle over the Taj Mahal to have an up-close aerial view
“The entire booking process is customised for each customer’s requirement, right from the schedule and airport check-ins to catering and in-flight services,” says Mishra whose company offers customised options including long-haul aircraft, and short-hop helicopters rides to remote locations.
Clients’ requests, he says, could range from unusual (mid-air birthday celebrations) to plain outlandish (transporting large mango trees to the Middle East). Some of the more eccentric demands have included “a hookah with specific flavours onboard” and asking “the pilot to circle over the Taj Mahal to have an up-close aerial view of the architectural marvel.” Both had to be declined “due to stringent aviation regulations”, Mishra notes.
Fit for a king
When it comes to serving the super-rich, the ‘customer is king’ approach guides everything. Quite literally so for Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, executive director of Historic Resort Hotels (HRH Group), India’s only privately owned chain of palace-hotels and resorts.
The group owns several high-end heritage properties that were fashioned out of centuries-old palaces and princely mansions, including the Jagmandir Island Palace Hotel, in the middle of Lake Pichola, in Udaipur, the venue for the $18m fairy-tale wedding of British-Indian tycoon Sanjay Hinduja.
A young man booked the entire Jagmandir Island Palace for an evening to propose to his girlfriend
The group owns several palaces and heritage havelis (mansions) that routinely play host to “celebrity events, high-profile weddings, corporate gigs, and glamour shows” for “high-net-worth clientele not just from India but across Europe, UK and the US,” says Mewar.
Occasionally, there are unusual requests. Mewar recalls one particular instance where a young man booked the entire Jagmandir Island Palace for an evening to propose to his girlfriend. “The two were ferried on a flower-decked boat, and they romanced on the island-palace under the starry skies,” says Mewar. “We just played out his dream evening for him. This is our hospitality, nothing odd about it.”
The millionaire matchmakers
Many high-powered executives and businesspeople are too busy to find a life partner through conventional social channels in their own community. And, in culturally diverse India, “community” is a catch-all term referring to a population of people of the same or similar religion, caste, culture, cuisine, and customs.
For a fee, they discretely seek prospective candidates with the ideal characteristics to suit their high-net-worth client
Matchmaking companies like EliteMatrimony and Ultra Rich Match were quick to sense a market opportunity in finding a prospective soulmate for India’s most eligible singles. For a fee ranging between 50,000 rupees (about $1,000) and 300,000 rupees ($4,500), they discretely seek prospective candidates with the ideal characteristics to suit their high-net-worth client.
The clients’ checklists can be diverse and demanding. “Some are fine with a match from outside their community, while others insist on prospects from within their own community,” says Murugavel Janakiraman, managing director of Chennai-based EliteMatrimony.
Another matchmaker, Ultra Rich Match, has a rigorous vetting process to find the best possible match. “We don’t claim to make people fall in love, but we definitely make the journey of finding the love of your life much easier,” says Ahmedabad-based Saurabh Goswami, the company’s managing director.
His client base includes business owners with a net worth between 1bn rupees (about $15m) and 10bn rupees (about $151m), many of whom “went to Ivy League schools, travelled the world, and have had exposure to different cultures.”
The growing allure of fine art
A sharp rise in wealth has also fuelled India’s art market. The country has a rich history of art, passed down by successive dynasties such as Rajput, Mughal and Mysore.
However, it’s only recently that Indian artworks started gaining in commercial interest leading to Indian art and artists receiving global recognition. A 2016 study of ultra-high-net-worth Indians by Kotak Wealth management found 68% of participants had bought art on impulse.
“As people acquire wealth and power, it’s natural to extend their spending to art,” says Dinesh Vazirani, co-founder of Saffronart, a leading Indian auction house for art and collectibles. “Acquiring art is seen as a reflection of social status; refined tastes reflect refined minds.”
Acquiring art is seen as a reflection of social status
At its most recent sale in New Delhi, Saffronart sold modern art worth $10.38m, including a painting by contemporary Indian artist Akbar Padamsee that fetched $3m, more than twice its expected sale price, says Vazirani.
A Christie’s auction in Mumbai in 2015 sold art worth nearly $15m, a record for any auction held in India. These figures provide validation of the domestic art market, currently worth about $225m, being propelled by the new crop of wealthy Indian buyers.
And as their species swells in numbers, along with their appetite for luxury, it’s touched off a race among service providers, trying to break into the HNWI market. India is exploding with entrepreneurial energy, not the least of which is flowing through the sector whose business it is to know where the super-rich shoppers want to spend their dosh.
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.