Most bank analysts would say families and banks don’t mix. It's true that there are no longer many big banks with significant family ownership. But some banks continue to flourish under family ownership – and they aren’t all small.
Alexander Hoare, from the UK’s family-owned bank C. Hoare & Co., says ownership of banks still matters. He can talk from considerable experience – his bank has been owned by his family for 11 generations.
Alexander reckons family ownership helps to bring a long-term perspective on running the bank. “Many CEOs of banks have a three year life expectancy, no personal liability, and they don’t really care about the long-term prospects of the bank,” he says. “All they are interested in is maximizing short-term profit.”
He says this emphasis on short-term profits has led to multiple mis-selling scandals, episodes of money laundering and rigging of benchmarks. “I think just running a normal banking business like ours is more profitable.”
He adds: “The absolute essence of our business is our relationship with our customer and we believe if we deliver careful services with strong relationships profits will flow, maybe not this year, but over the next generation. You can’t do that if you’re an institution that is constantly looking at quarterly results.”
That’s a sentiment that those managing the banks on this list would share, but not all of them are structured in the same way as Hoare & Co. Indeed, a few are listed, such as Santander. The Spanish bank is arguably the most peculiarly structured bank on this list. The Botín family own just 2% of Santander, but exert huge influence over it. The family shows no signs of losing that influence after the smooth succession of Ana Botín to the chairmanship after the death of her father earlier this year.
Analysts who say families and banks don’t mix point to the recent blow up at the Portuguese Banco Espírito Santo. That was a mess, but family owners of banks like Alexander Hoare might say that this has nothing to do with the ownership structure, more to do with the individual family and how they (badly) managed their bank.
Ten banks owned by families – in no particular order
Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co (Berenberg)
The Hamburg-based Berenberg is the oldest bank dynasty still owned by descendants of the founders. Indeed, Berenberg is second oldest bank in the world after Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, tracing its origins back to 1590. The descendants of the two brothers that founded it, Hans and Paul Berenberg, still own around 30% of the bank.
But unlike Banca Monte, which is no longer family owned and faces meltdown after being singled out recently as one of the most indebted banks in Europe by the European Central Bank, Berenberg continues to flourish. Last year, it made a net profit of €66m, up 10% from the previous year. And its asset management business has around €30bn under management. It makes a virtue from being small.
The controlling family have long since departed from the day-to-day management of the business, but there are certain “family-like” controls on the bank such as its unlimited liability status, which falls on the three management partners who currently run the bank - Dr Hans-Walter Peters, Andreas Brodtmann and Hendrik Riehmer.
Berenberg does most of its business in Germany and has banking and asset management relationships with some of the wealthiest people in the country. In recent years Berenberg has expanded into the UK, even recently targeting growth in the US. It also has a sizable trading business, which given its unlimited liability structure means the management have to take extra care of what’s going on at the bank.
The Santander Group is one of the biggest financial institutions in the world with a massive balance sheet and a market capitalization approaching €100bn, but it’s still perceived as being family controlled, despite that fact that the Botín family own less than 2% of equity in the group. When Emilio Botín, the man responsible for growing the bank to its impressive size today, died in September, there was no doubt who would take over his executive chairmanship role - his daughter Ana.
The Botíns are the quintessential banking family, and with Ana's ascent they have now been running the business for four generations. They have an almost mythical status in Spain. Emilio’s skill at navigating Santander through the financial crisis, which hit Spain hard, added to the family’s reputation. The Botíns could well run Santander for many generations yet.
Bank of East Asia
The Li family might own just over 7% of the Hong Kong bank, but just as the Botín family exert considerable influence over Santander, so to do the Li family over Bank of East Asia. Its current chief executive and chairman David Li is the third generation of the Li family to run the bank and is one of Hong Kong’s most influential business leaders. His two sons - Brian and Adrian - also work in the bank.
In recent years Bank of East Asia has expanded rapidly into the Chinese market, and it now has nearly 150 branches throughout the country.
But how much longer the family’s stake in the business will remain was brought into question recently when David Li responded to a question from the local media about whether the family was interested in selling. He said: “It’s all about shareholders’ value. If someone offers three to four times of book value, I would consider.”
The Rothschild Group
Berenberg might be the oldest continuously family-owned bank in the world, but when it comes to depth and fame of a family-owned bank no one can match Rothschild. One of the greatest banking dynasties of all time, the London-based Rothschild Group is still controlled and managed by the family. It’s currently chaired by David de Rothschild and is likely to be managed by his son Alexandre when he eventually steps down.
There are, of course, other parts of the dynasty spread throughout Europe, including the hugely successful Swiss-based branch headed by Edmund de Rothschild, which has recently grown its merchant banking business into the UK. Jacob Rothschild, who is behind one of the UK’s most successful investment groups, RIT Capital Partners, represents another wing of the family dynasty.
They are all descendants of the man who started it all back in Frankfurt in the 18th century - Mayer Amschel Rothschild.
Itaú is the 10th largest bank in the world in terms of market value, but still family controlled. In fact Itaú, which came about with the merge of Banco Itaú and Unibanco, is 90% controlled by three dynasties - the Setubal, Villela and the Moreira Salles families. They are among Brazil’s richest families, all billionaires. Pedro Moreira Salles is the current chairman and Roberto Setubal is the CEO of the group.
The bank has expanded with the growth of Brazil as an economic powerhouse – and the families involved have done equally well.
C. Hoare & Co
The UK’s oldest bank, controlled by the Hoare family since 1672, is also one of the country’s most respected. Its partners have unlimited liability, which they say focuses them to know about everything that goes on at the bank. Today, the bank limits itself to private banking for the rich, and has a fair share of the great and the good of Britain as clients.
Hoare & Co moved some years ago to bring in an outsider to be chief executive - previously the most senior position was a family member - but the family still play an active role in the management of the bank. Its headquarters on London’s Fleet Street resembles an 18th century gentlemen’s club, and having an account with the bank has a certain club-like appear. It is known for its customer service and long-term approach to business. During the financial crisis, the bank was inundated with customers requesting to open an account as they fled the troubled bigger banks.
Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch (Lombard Odier)
Family-owned Swiss private banks Lombard Odier and Darier Hentsch merged in 2002. Darier Hentsch traces its origins back to 1796. Three descendants of the two banks still work in the bank: Thierry Lombard, Patrick Odier and Christophe Hentsch.
The unlimited liability partnership structure was ditched last year, which means the corporation is liable for any liabilities, and no longer the partners. What Lombard Odier might have lost in terms of partner responsibility in moving to such a structure, it has gained in terms of transparency - the bank now reports its income, albeit in less detail than that a listed bank has to.
Managing partner Thierry Lombard is a big proponent of family businesses. Beyond his banking duties, he is also the chairman of the Swiss-based Family Business Network.
D. L. Evans Bank
Family influence and control of the big US banking dynasties like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs has long since ceased, but there are still small, local banks controlled by families in the country. One such is D.L. Evans Bank in Idaho, which traces its origins back to 1904 and is now managed by the fourth and fifth generations.
Up until recently, the bank was run by the former governor of Idaho John V. Evans Sr. His son John V. Evans Jr., took over after his death and he is currently grooming the fifth generation to run the business.
Austria’s oldest bank, which dates back to 1828 and is based in Salzburg, is controlled by two dynasties – the Spangler and Wiesmüller families, which are now in their seventh generation of control of the bank. The bank prides itself on its family connections and works with many of Austria’s family businesses. The bank also likes supporting entrepreneurs and was an early backer of Dietrich Mateschitz, the Austrian businessmen who co-founded Red Bull.
Banco Espírito Santo
Not all family controlled banks get it right and to prove the point the recent problems at Banco Espírito Santo in Portugal shows how family-controlled banks can go terribly wrong. In July, Portugal’s second-biggest bank collapsed. The family patriarch Ricardo Espírito Santo Salgado resigned as CEO a month before.
The Espírito Santo dynasty started with a foreign-exchange business in Lisbon launched in 1869 by José María do Espírito Santo e Silva. This evolved into Banco Espírito Santo, which expanded beyond banking into a global empire that included real estate, hotels, healthcare and energy and agricultural interests.
But the family’s holdings soon became overstretched and debt ridden, causing the unravelling of the empire.