The Asia-Pacific overtook North America to become the region with the largest population of high-net-worth individuals for the first time last year, but Hong Kong's wealthy ranks shrank by nearly 17 per cent because of weaker global stock markets. Countries that saw the fastest rise in such rich people, defined as individuals having investable assets of US$1 million or more, came from Thailand, Indonesia and mainland China. Investable assets exclude a person's primary residence, collectibles and goods that can be consumed. The Asia-Pacific surpassed Europe in 2010. The latest findings are contained in the seventh annual Asia-Pacific Wealth Report, co-produced by consulting firm Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, a unit of Royal Bank of Canada. Of the 3.4 million high-net-worth individuals in the Asia-Pacific, more than 99 per cent were individuals with investable assets of US$30 million or below, pointing to the difficulty in accumulating wealth after reaching a certain threshold, the report's authors said. In Hong Kong, 17,000 individuals fell off the high-net-worth chart, and total investable wealth dropped by US$103 billion, or about 20 per cent, from 2010. Hong Kong investors' preference for equity products, coupled with the sluggish stock market performance, were the main reasons for the decline, said Alex Khein, the chief operating officer at BlueBay Asset Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of RBC Wealth Management. MSCI equity indices for select Asia-Pacific markets fell across all economies except Indonesia. Mainland China, along with Japan and Australia, accounted for more than 75 per cent of the number of wealthy individuals in the region, which edged up 1.6 per cent to 3.4 million people. Despite the increase in the number, the amount of investable wealth in the Asia-Pacific fell 1.1 per cent to US$10.7 trillion, mostly because of contractions in Hong Kong and India. A slowdown in export growth and reduced fund flows to emerging markets in the region also were factors that led to the drop. While it is hard to predict the outcome for this year, Khein said the considerable rally in stocks this year had helped boost the portfolios of Hong Kong's rich. With explosive growth in the number of wealthy individuals, private banks have been scrambling to set up in Asia in recent years. The path, however, has not been smooth. Mark Wales, a vice-president and major accounts director of Capgemini Financial Services Hong Kong, said the industry had experienced consolidation as well as seen some exits. Hong Kong and Singapore have become the two most popular wealth centres for banks in recent years, mainly because of their respective growth in high-net-worth individuals and the ease of doing business, the research showed.