Surprise! In a year that’s decimated livelihoods, the ultra-rich have become wealthier than ever.
According to research from investment banking company Credit Suisse, 5.2 million people became millionaires in 2020 (must be nice not to have to worry about moving back in with your parents). Meanwhile, on 2020’s other channel, coronavirus pushed global debt to record highs.
Of course, having money doesn’t automatically mean you’re a megalomaniac CEO who wants to colonise space. Whether through dumb luck, work, or simply having more money than everyone else to begin with, well-intentioned people became millionaires last year too. So what’s their secret?
VICE spoke to three newly-made millionaires to find out how they made ridiculous amounts of cash in a year that obliterated the livelihoods of many others – and how they felt about it.
Arzel Rodriguez, 24, software engineer, made $3.8 million (£2.8 million)
VICE: Tell us – how do you make money?
Arzel Rodriguez: I took on several clients in my day job as a software engineer and invested $28,000 into GameStop. The payout in the first run was $3.8m, but there’s been a few more GameStop shorts that I’ve been involved in since. The profit is much higher than my starting number.
What’s the first purchase you made as a millionaire?
A Porsche Taycan. Besides that, I’m currently shopping around for my first home. The money hasn’t changed me yet, but I would say the money has made my life more comfortable.
How do you feel about becoming a millionaire in the pandemic?
It’s been an extremely lucky and unique experience. No one could have predicted the power of ordinary retail traders and the amount of press attention we got. I would say it feels like a dream.
Do you plan to retire from your day job?
I have no plans whatsoever to retire from my day to day. If anything, [making money] has fuelled my motivation to keep moving forward. I feel ecstatic and mostly at a loss for words, considering it’s life changing. It’s given me the ability to bootstrap the projects I’ve always wanted to make.
Gracey Kay, 32, ex-hairdresser and OnlyFans creator, made £1 million
VICE: You became a millionaire in the pandemic. How?
I was self-employed as a hairdresser at the start of the pandemic. Obviously, when the restrictions came, we were on lockdown and salons were closed. I then heard about the site OnlyFans, from a friend. I don't think it was something I would have bothered to look into if it hadn't been for the pandemic. I was also a little bit short on money. Once I set up my account and started doing pictures and videos, I realised that there could actually be a lot of money made on the website.
How much money do you make?
I was earning anything from £1,000 to £1,500 a month doing hairdressing. On OnlyFans, I’m averaging between £40,000 to £100,000 a month. I have 150,000 subscribers at the moment and my total money made so far has been more than £1.2m. OnlyFans has changed my life.
What made your page a success?
I started talking to other models that were doing OnlyFans through Instagram, and they gave me some tricks on how to get fans onto the account. We helped each other by promoting one another. That really helped. It kind of boomed from there – each month just kept going up, and the more money I had, the more I put into promoting it. I’ve spent more than 16 hours a day making content for my account. I also think lockdown helped because the only thing we had was the internet, so everyone was online.
How do you feel about making so much money in the pandemic?
It feels like I’ve won the lottery.
Stephanie Taylor, 49, ex-data analyst, made £3 million
VICE: Where’s your money come from then?
Stephanie: Primarily, I'm a property investor and I invest in buying properties that are multi-unit. We also run a property management company called HMO Heaven. We manage house shares, and we transform house shares from hellish to haven.
I see. But how did you get the money to invest into the properties in the first place?
I think that if I was reading an article like this before, I’d think ‘Oh well, obviously that person's got a lot of money because how else are you going to buy property for £375,000 or even £450,000?’ But what I've realised is: We actually all have a lot of money going through our hands. The average UK salary is £25,0000. [Editor’s note: According to the ONS, the median household income in the UK is £29,900.]
So most people reading this article will have had more than quarter of a million pounds come to their hands in the last 10 years. They have to put some of that into taxes, and living costs, but what are we doing with the rest of it? That’s where the secret is, because when you start investing your money, whether in property, in stocks and shares, that's when you become rich. You actually don't need a high income to become rich.
I mean… perhaps. How do you feel about becoming wealthier at a time when many have found themselves in very precarious financial positions?
Well, I feel lucky that we came into the business world and we had our eyes open to investment, because that made it easier during the pandemic. Whatever your situation, there's a place for you to start towards building your wealth for the future.