Here’s ten European banks that know about families because families play a big role in their ownership. They aren’t necessarily big and some are small, but they have built up deep relationships with families in their countries and some even beyond.
All of them have survived the test of time without facing collapse, or being bought out by much bigger financial institutions. That’s pretty amazing given the very high attrition rate in the world of finance. They are examples of, believe it or not, trusted financial institutions - and that in a world where faith in financial institutions is still weak is to be commended.
In alphabetical order
The Italian Banca Sella is controlled by the Sella family and has been since 1886, but the family’s link to business goes back to the 16th century when they were involved in the textile sector in northern Italy. Based in the town of Biella in the region of Piedmont, the bank is still prominent in this part of Italy, but has a growing presence in the southern part of the country. Banca Sella is big on the idea of stakeholders, and reckons that it’s important to uphold the bank's role in the wider community -- a value many family businesses will be familiar with.
A family-owned bank with a big family business behind it must understand something about dealing with families. Founded in 1852 in the German town of Minden, Bankhaus Lampe has been owned by the Oetker family, owners of one of the country’s biggest family businesses Dr Oetker, since 1949. It provides corporate finance to many of the country’s Mittelstand businesses and also has a well respected private client business.
Another old bank in the German-speaking world that prides itself on its family ownership, Bankhaus Spängler has been owned by the same family for seven generations. Based in the Austrian city of Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, the bank is one of the most respected financial institutions in the country. Spängler engages with family businesses through corporate financing and its wealth management business. It also monitors the performance of family businesses through its well known family business barometer.
Banque Martin Maurel
The merger of two family-owned banks in 1964 created the French Banque Martin Maurel, which has strong links to many of country’s family businesses. The Maurel family own around 90% of the bank, which is headquartered in Marseille but has offices throughout France. Family banks are often linked to other family banks and Banque Martin teamed up with Banca Sella a few years ago to open a bank in Monaco. Also, David de Rothschild, the chairman of the Rothschild Group, sits on the board of the bank’s holding company, Compagnie Financière Martin Maurel.
Founded in 1590, the world’s second oldest bank in continuous operations, Berenberg is still partly owned by members of the Berenberg family - and that must count for something. The bank has a specialist unit called Berenberg Office, which deals with family businesses, family offices and entrepreneurs. Like many of the banks on the list, the partners have skin in the gain with the bank’s unlimited liability structure providing the ultimate risk control.
C. Hoare & Co
A click on C. Hoare & Co’s website will give you some idea of what kind of financial institution it is - with its family business roots emphasised and the importance trust plays for a financial institution. Over its long history trust has served the London-based bank well. During the financial crisis of 2008, Hoare & Co was apparently turning away customers from other banks as they fled many of the big banks for fear of losing their money. Creditworthiness is something Hoare & Co doesn’t lack and that’s partly because it does the simple task of banking very well.
Another old bank, Lombard Odier has been in continuous family-ownership since it was founded in Geneva in 1796. It moved from an unlimited liability partnership to a corporate partnership structure a few years ago. Although the partners aren’t personally liable anymore if the bank goes under, you get the impression that they care passionately about it and its reputation. Lombard Odier has strong links to family businesses and sponsors an annual award for the sector in association with the business school IMD.
Arguably the quintessential Swiss private bank, Pictet is still family owned, although like Lombard Odier it moved to a corporate partnership structure a few years ago. It has an international presence and is mostly involved in wealth management. Like all the banks on this list, Pictet wasn’t unduly hurt by the financial crisis of 2008 and managed to avoid the worst of the fallout from the American crackdown on offshore financial centres like Switzerland. That’s all helped to create a brand with a strong and robust reputation, making it popular with some of the world’s richest families.
Is there a bank more synonymous with family control than Rothschild? The simple answer to that is no. The ultimate family name in global banking, which has survived the test of time when many other family financial dynasties have been swept aside. There are several parts of the Rothschild financial empire, but the Rothschild Group is arguably the one that best represents the overall banking business - at least at this point of time. The group has many links with global family businesses and will continue to do so for years to come given how successful the Rothschild family are at managing succession.
Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken
Better known by its initials SEB, the Swedish bank was founded and remains in the control of the Wallenberg family. By the far the biggest bank on the list in terms of the size of its balance sheet and number of customers, it is also the only one listed. Nevertheless, the Wallenberg family values come through pretty strongly at SEB and it is perceived as one of the soundest banks in the Nordic region. Its strong reputation and its links with Sweden’s best known business family has helped it win business from many of the region’s best known family firms.