RICH PICKINGS: Million dollar baby

For the millionaire who has everything but can't find love, there is an answer... of sorts.

Attracting the rich and famous has long been a strategy to give a city an economic boost. But London’s colourful mayor Boris Johnson has taken a very different approach to plumping for billionaire business.

He wants broken-hearted billionaires of the world to come to London to formalise their divorce proceedings.

"I would never encourage anyone to sue, but if one oligarch feels defamed by another oligarch, it is London's lawyers who apply the necessary balm to the ego," Johnson said in a speech.

"I have no shame in saying to the injured spouses of the world's billionaires if you want to take him to the cleaners... take him to the cleaners in London. Because London cleaners will be grateful for your business."

Johnson, whose tongue never seems to be far away from his cheek, does make a good point: Lawyers are typically the only ones who ever win from a divorce proceeding.

It’s certainly never good for the fortune of an entrepreneur.

Take last week’s example from Hong Kong, where China’s richest woman, Wu Yajun , lost her title after announcing her divorce and the transfer of 40 per cent of her stake in property group Longfor Properties to her former husband.

According to Bloomberg, the deal takes Wu’s fortune from $US7.3 billion to $4.2 billion – and makes an instant billionaire out of her husband, Cai Kui. The operations of Longfor will continue on as normal.

Whether a marriage succeeds or fails, billionaires (and millionaires) are seen by some as possessing the perfect qualities for a mate. Qualities that transcend attributes like age, looks, or personality.

Technology is making that ‘search for a perfect mate’ easier, and a great article from US website Daily Finance takes a peek at such a search in a profile of SeekingArrangement.com, the world’s largest website for the group colloquially known as "sugar daddies”, and the occasional "sugar mommy".

While Australians might struggle to believe that these very American sites actually exist, it’s not that long since one of Australia’s most famous older Casanovas has had his own brush with the sugar daddy matchmaking scene.

Last month, socialite and entrepreneur Geoffrey Edelsten won a case in the Victorian Supreme Court seeking repayment of a $5000 loan made to a woman he met on the website sugardaddyforme.com during a brief separation from his wife.

Edelsten won the case – and interest of 9 per cent – but was labelled as an unreliable witness by Justice David Beach. He is now back with his wife, reality television star, Brynne Edelsten.

The Daily Finance story reveals the hard luck scenarios facing the (mainly) young women who populate the site, and interestingly, the men who fund them. It argues that the rise of such sites – and their changing profiles – has much to do with the current economic situation in the US.

Seekingarrangement.com founder Brandon Wade, who met his wife on the site, launched the product because he lacked many of the attributes that snagged his peers a mate. "I was shy with women and don't have huge muscles, nor do I have the social skills Casanova has," he told Daily Finance. "I didn't have my first kiss until I was 21."

But Wade did notice that women found the size of his wealth outmatched the absence of his muscles. Since he started the site, membership has jumped 386 per cent to over one million since the start of 2008, sparked in no small part by the onset of the GFC.

Wade believes the GFC has made it particularly hard for young women to pay their way through college; students have traditionally accounted for 25 per cent of the site’s "sugar baby” population but now account for more than 40 per cent. There has also been a strong rise in single mothers using the site, something the company pins on rising levels of unpaid child support.

What the increased supply of woman has done is change the economics of the site for the sugar daddies – younger and less wealthy men are now able to afford the "services” of a sugar baby, with the typical pre-recession monthly "allowance” of $US4,000 falling sharply.

According to Wade, this has greatly changed the profile of users. The average net worth of the sugar daddies on seekingarrangement.com has fallen from $US7.1 million to $5.6 million, a drop of 21 per cent.

At the same time, the average age of a daddy on the site has dropped from 44 to 40.

"The general trend has been that you can be generous – you don't have to be a multimillionaire or a billionaire to compete," Wade told Daily Finance.

"The number of fish in the pool has ballooned. That's going to attract fishermen of all sorts."

My main reaction to this is: Yuk.

No matter how practical it might be for wealthy men to buy the services of less wealthy women (the site also caters for sugar mommies) the idea of reducing people to fish and fisherman at worst and transaction units at best is distasteful and humiliating – for both sides of the buy/sell equation.

Still, when the mayor of London is calling for a divorce-led economic stimulus, perhaps turning love into a fee-for-service model isn’t that crazy after all.

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