South Africa has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world, making it difficult to determine how much money it takes to be considered ‘wealthy’.
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that global wealth is typically pegged to the US dollar, and South Africa’s billionaire rankings can plunge overnight based on fluctuating exchange rates.
An easy way to determine who qualifies as ‘wealthy’ in South Africa would be to look at the finance sector – specifically, how much money is required to open a private wealth account at one of the country’s top banks.
These exclusive top-tier banking accounts are often referred to as ‘black card’ accounts, denoting the colour of the credit cards that are often issued to high-end and top earning customers.
The ‘black card’ derives much of its prestige from the famous American Express Centurion account, which is reported to carry no credit limit, and is said to be the most exclusive, initiation-only card in the world.
While South African banks are not known to issue limitless credit accounts, there are several options for the super-rich in the country, with retail banks such as Discovery, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa offering accounts for high net-worth individuals (HNWIs).
Broadly, the banks require their private wealth clients to earn an average annual salary of R1.35 million a year to qualify.
Some banks look at gross monthly income, with Absa being the lowest point of entry at R62,500 per month. Deviating from the ‘black card’ aesthetic, Discovery Bank offers an exclusive account with the Purple Card, which carries one of the highest requirements of R2.5 million per annum.
Previously, Investec has given no indication of minimum requirements for potential clients, saying that it looks at the finances of individuals on application. However, the bank now invites those earning above R800,000 per annum to apply.
|Discovery Bank Purple||Earn above R2.5 million annually|
|FNB Private Wealth Account||Earn above R1.5 million annually and/or have R15 million of investable assets|
|Nedbank Private Wealth Account||Earn above R1.5 million per year and/or have R5 million of investable assets|
|Standard Bank Signature Account||Earn a minimum gross monthly income of R92,000 (R1.1 million per annum)|
|Investec||Earn above R800,000 annually|
|Absa Private Banking Account||Earn a minimum gross monthly income of R62,500 (R750,000 per annum)|
What makes you ‘wealthy’ in South Africa?
Using the aforementioned bank account requirements, we can determine that one would need to earn at least R750,000 a year to be considered wealthy in South Africa.
There are two other key metrics for measuring wealth in South Africa, however: whether a person is a dollar millionaire, or whether they fall within the top 1% of earners in the country.
Global finance researchers have traditionally used the more general term of ‘high net-worth individuals‘ (HNWIs), and the barrier for entry into that elite group is $1 million (R14.42 million).
Using this metric, data published by New World Wealth in April shows that there are currently 36,500 dollar millionaires living in the country – down by 1,900 from the number recorded in 2020.
However, the barrier for entry to the top 1% is much lower, a report by global property consultancy group Knight Frank shows.
The group found that a South African will need to earn at least $180,000 (R2.6 million) to be considered in the top 1% of earners.
The World Inequality Database – which updated its metrics in March 2021 – provides a tool to check how your salary data compares to other South Africans. According to this, the monthly salary you would need to be a top 1% earner is around R141,000, in South Africa (R1.7 million a year).
Local research by the University of Cape Town’s South African Labour and Development Research Unit also finds that a top 1% earner in South Africa takes home just under R50,000 a month (after tax) – approximately R70,000 a month, or R840,000 a year.