The Future of Wealth

It’s 2014 and as expected, your life is ever more mobile and essentially connected.

As a collector, you are no stranger to the latest and best of what a global market has to offer.

The map on your smartphone guides you to a “connected” gallery, and as you cross its threshold, you swipe your phone across a “check-in” sign on an elegant pedestal. In so doing, you share limited data about your art preferences to the proprietor who is instantly informed and tailors your visit with targeted recommendations, including inventory that isn’t on display. And so begins a personalized, rich experience as you start to stroll the gallery.

The place has changed since you were last there. You immediately notice that it’s appreciably more open and welcoming since the new owner removed the bulky sales desks with their clumsy registers. The inventory has increased and is richly diverse due to the spatial redesign. Your experience feels more engaging as you wander around as though you were at a museum, rather than a retail outlet. The redeployed sales clerks, once trapped behind the check-out, seem more like docents than sales associates; it is relaxed, inviting, and beautiful.

While admiring the contemporary art, you swipe your smartphone across the discrete digital tag attached to the pieces you’re considering for the foyer of your resort condo. With each interaction, your phone lights up with a description of the piece, an insightful story about the artist, a summary of its provenance, photos of some non-obvious details, suggested price, and even title and property insurance options – should you consider a purchase. As you browse, you save a couple of the most interesting items to your favorites, and move on to explore more treasures. Convinced you’ve found the perfect canvas to grace your new retreat, you confirm the acquisition option and seamlessly your account is debited and the title transferred to your personal property cloud – the online digital location where the information about all your acquisitions is secured, organized and actively managed. The doyenne of the gallery is signaled of your purchase, and she helpfully arranges delivery. With your phone, you tap the tablet she’s carrying, and all your contact information is immediately transferred to her logistics and – with your permission – her customer relationship management application.

The chime on your phone alerts you that a new item’s been added to your personal property cloud and you open the app that enables you to review your recent purchases. There, in beautiful hi-res clarity, are several photographs of the painting you just acquired, all its purchase details and documents that attest to its authenticity, provenance and certified appraisal. Now, because it retains the details of your real estate portfolio, the same application asks where you would like the newly acquired art to be located. Mindful of the need to protect your treasures, you securely select the precise property, floor and room in which the newly acquired painting will hang.


Meanwhile, in the background, the salient details of your acquisition have been sent to your insurance broker who amends your policy with its retail replacement value. Your wealth manager receives a similar notice and adds the painting’s value to your tangible wealth report, and because she’ll receive regular automated notifications of its present fair market value (the data within your personal property cloud is being refreshed with every change affected by the major auction houses’ activities), the next time you meet, you’ll have an up-to-date view of both your financial and your tangible wealth.

Later that weekend, while you’re hosting a gathering at your home, your friend mentions an artwork similar to the piece you’ve just acquired. With your iPad you launch a flipboard-style app that enables you to vividly display your recent purchase (sans purchase price and other private details), and you engage in a lively exchange with your guest about your mutual passion for the genre. Inevitably, your conversation leads to the condo you’re decorating and – using the same application that draws from the data in your personal property cloud – you open a Google Maps-like view of the main floor which now indicates that your artwork is located there. With just a couple of swipes and pinches, your entire art collection is displayed, and your conversation is enhanced with new information and the discovery of commonalities.

While you enjoy the hunt for new adornments, all of this decorating is a drain on your available cash, so you’re considering liquidating some of your equities to fill the gap. A quick check of your portfolio shows that many of your most promising holdings have swung lower in recent weeks and your investment advisor suggests caution until there’s a bit more recovery. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have recently completed successful auctions and your tangible wealth dashboard reflects that the fair-market value of a few of your pieces has increased measurably from your purchase price. Now, you’re presented several options to test the demand for your collectibles, and you select the option to invite other collectors to bid on your items in a private exchange. To serious bidders, you grant restricted access to the information about your collectibles stored in your cloud so that prospective buyers are fully informed and assured of their value and authenticity.

While the scenario above may seem like a Ron Johnson1, Ray Kurzweil2 Evan Greenberg3, Minority Report mash-up, the technologies, infrastructure and software supporting it are in various stages of commercial deployment – right now. And even if we swap out the gallery example with an auto showroom, boutique jewelry store or antiques remarketer in the above scenario, the interactions, user experience and results are not meaningfully dissimilar. The cadence and content of our acquisitive lives – and all of their tangential influences – are going through profound change. Given the tectonic shifts in the consumption of emerging technologies, there is little doubt that our tangible lives will be transformed to such an extent over the next decade, that today’s modalities of transacting, record keeping, B to C communications, indeed commerce itself, will look distinctly different.


And for most, the changes could not come soon enough. From brokers to retailers to customers, the need for tangible wealth management has never been more critical. With the rapid emergence of an enormous middle class in the two most populous nations on the planet – India and China – has come an unprecedented growth in the demand for tangible assets and precious collectibles. Add the reshuffling of global banking and financial services industries, and the growing threat of run-away inflation due to central banks’ monetary policies, the result has been a complete rebalancing of Global Household Wealth (GHW). In 2010, for the first time in modern history, GHW was comprised of equal parts financial and tangible assets4 – an enormous shift that occurred in just a decade. And while we’ve spent the past 100 years optimizing – down to a fraction of a second – the management of traditional finance product portfolios, little thought has been given to the optimization and management of the other hemisphere of wealth – tangible assets. From increasing commerce efficiencies, rethinking data-ownership laws, analyzing sales data, title transfer and insurance and electronic evidences of purchase – the opportunities to capture a 360 degree view of our tangible lives has never been greater.

Furthermore, in the next 20-30 years, we will experience the greatest transfer of wealth ever experienced by a generation. As the baby boomers, who are reaching retirement age at a rate of 10,000 per day, pass their estates to their inheriting loved ones, $30T (US) will be transferred to a generation that will demand new ways to manage its wealth. Having truly “grown up digital” (with a nod to Don Tapscott’s seminal work), this omni-connected, uber-transparent, dis-intermediated generation has hardly known a CD let alone a video tape, and expects technology to be personal, accessible, beautiful and to affect every facet of their lives – from how they buy their groceries to whom they choose to date.

If technology trends over the past 10 years are even remotely indicative of the near future, the future of shopping scenario as depicted at the outset of this article is much closer to the present than we might think. The unstoppable force of global economics (trending towards tangibles), meeting the immovable object in the form of the iGeneration, will no doubt spawn profound changes in the future of wealth. As a fellow tech entrepreneur recently quipped, “… the future is now, were you ready?”

1 Ron Johnson, currently JC Penney’s CEO and charged with turning around its retail experience, is legendary for designing the Apple Store’s super successful retail format.
2 Ray Kurzweil is a renowned futurist and author who has penned several books about the convergence of humans and machines.
3 Evan Greenberg is Chairman, CEO of insurance giant Ace Limited, and son of Hank Greenberg, former CEO of AIG.
4 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, October 2010. “At the start of the decade, financial assets accounted for most of the value of the household portfolio, but the share has been declining, as a result of which, the global portfolio is now equally split between financial and non-financial assets.”