That's not me speaking. That's Gerard Aquilina, the head of Barclays Wealth Management's private-banking unit, at a conference in Zurich last week, as reported by Bloomberg News columnist Matthew Lynn in his column of the same title.
"Beware of the complexities of dealing with ultra high net worths," Aquilina told his audience. "Demanding and often unreasonable" requests from them may create "impossible demands on the organization."
Such as? Help with getting children into the right school, securing credit to buy property, or obtaining last-minute concert tickets, for example. Even worse, the richest of the rich turn out to be pretty stingy as well. They don't even want to pay the full fee for all the services they demand.
It was strong stuff. But it was also an insight into the way the rich have changed over the past decade. They are, it turns out, a nasty bunch of people who are only getting nastier. And the banking industry only has itself to blame....
There is an increasing amount of evidence that the rich are a vicious tribe of people. One study last year from the University of California, Berkeley, found that the rich are ruder than others. Another piece of research, conducted at the same institution, concluded they were less likely to give to charity than poorer people were. A third study, carried out at the Humboldt University in Berlin, concluded they were "nastier," in the sense of being keener to punish others....
Some of this may be new, but some certainly is not. For example, wealthy Jews have always contributed heavily to charity. It's a cultural imperative. Protestants, not so much. When Jewa, excluded from elite WASP social clubs, formed their own such organizations, one of the criteria for membership was a strong philanthropic record--something no WASP club ever considered.
OTOH, I have no reason to doubt annecdotal reports that these folks are getting nastier. The longer they keep getting richer and richer the more "normal" such nastiness becomes. It's certainly happened many times before in human history.
There's also the added dimension of social disconnect between the finance sector elite and those who work hard to help generate their wealth:
The investment bankers and hedge-fund managers who make up most of the new rich elite don't have much contact with ordinary people. They assume their wealth is entirely the result of their own brilliance. And they cut themselves off from normal life.
It is an industry that mints billionaires and also breeds arrogance, selfishness and snobbishness.
Aquilina has put a spotlight on an industry that only has itself to blame. Maybe that's why he's warning others.
None of this is really news. Except for the fact that it's become such a commonplace that someone like Aquilina would speak about it so frankly.
Now, would someone please tell President Obama? I know it's a bit late.
But better late than never.