What Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's independent financial future could look like
As Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, step back from royal duties, their global star power has set them up for a massive payday, according to industry experts.
“They’re a US$100-million brand,” marketer John Yorke, CEO of Toronto-based ad agency Rain43 told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview. “There are going to be lots of people lining up with their chequebooks.”
Observers say relocating to Canada would offer the couple a unique spot from which to launch their own empire, given its proximity to the U.S. as well as the brand opportunities in the Great White North. Even coffee chain Tim Hortons was quick to share its excitement on the move, in a tweet which largely backfired.
Lucrative fees could come from obvious areas, such as the keynote speaker circuit. Observers say there is also potential for Hollywood production deals, such as the one between Netflix and the Obamas. Meanwhile, boardroom roles at blue chip companies could further pad income, through a combination of salary and stock options.
“They’re standing for inclusivity, anti-racism and anti-bullying,” noted Yorke. “If I’m a big brand, I would be the first to ask how we get them sitting on our board.”
Given their status in the upper echelon of A-list celebs, Meghan and Harry are in the enviable position of being able to balance their desire for financial independence with their charitable endeavours.
“They’ll be able to select the events they do and will certainly be able to command fees in the six figures – and potentially high six figures," Jeff Lohnes, co-founder of Talent Bureau, which represents high profile speakers for events.
“They haven’t put in the work yet of the Oprah and Obama class, but those are their peers,” Lohnes said.
The Times of London has already reported Harry’s wealth at 30 million pounds ($51.1 million), thanks to his share of his mother’s estate and his great-grandmother’s legacy.
Meghan, meanwhile, was reportedly earning US$50,000 per episode for her acting work on the TV series Suits, prior to joining the Royal Family. Any consideration of a return to television would easily drum up handsome contract offers. Her connections in entertainment, along with the fashion industry help build the case for earnings potential with no ceiling.
“Americans love the royals and we are fascinated by their every move,” veteran Hollywood executive Ben Silverman, chairman and co-CEO of Propagate Content, told BNN Bloomberg in an email. “Meghan had a career before she married the prince and will continue to have even more opportunities in the future. If the Obamas and Clintons can get production deals so too can the Windsors.”
“As long as it’s couched in charity and goodwill, I think people will pay whatever it takes to be part of that brand,” Rain43’s Yorke said.
Of course, a wild card when it comes to their earnings will be taxes, especially if the couple spends the majority of its time in Canada. Meghan’s situation is particularly complex, given she could potentially have three tax jurisdictions to deal with.
“If you’re considered to be a resident of Canada, you are taxable on your worldwide income – not just your Canadian source income,” Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC, told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview.
In Ontario, where Meghan previously lived while filming Suits, the highest tax rate stands at 53.5 per cent, while it is just under 50 per cent in British Columbia. By comparison, in Florida, which has no state income tax, the top federal rate stands at 37 per cent.
Golombek notes anyone holding more than $100,000 worth of foreign property is also required to disclose their worldwide assets to the Canada Revenue Agency.
As well, any potential tax benefit from donating lucrative speaker fees would likely be offset by the taxable portion of that income.
“They’ll probably do everything in their power not to become residents of Canada.”
Another wild card is the Royal Family itself, which has described the situation as complicated. While we’ve seen acceptance for some past money-making efforts by former royals (such as Sarah Ferguson’s endorsement work for Weight Watchers), Harry’s royal bloodline definitely makes the situation unique.
“I don’t think they’d want to step in the way of him making money because he stands for so much, from a social and charitable point of view,” Rain43’s Yorke said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted the value of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's brand. BNN Bloomberg regrets this error.