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Oldest banks in the world still operating today

  • Oldest banks in the world still operating today

    Long before Adam Smith fathered the idea of capitalism in his book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” which was published the same year that the United States declared its independence from England, the institution of banking had taken root. The early lending institutions were merchant bankers, who traded commodities with traveling merchants. European bankers used tactics first mastered by the Silk Road traders, who were the predecessors to investment bankers. Many of the earliest banks spurred from a successful merchant banker who used his reputation and client pool to launch what we today understand as a bank.

    Obviously, in the banking world, a reputation of dependability is worth more than gold. And so, many banks work to trace their lineage to the earliest possible date, starting their history at the first instance of entrance into a banking-like system. As such, many of the oldest banks claim their founding date as the moment their original banker first began creating accounts with local and traveling traders. In some cases, the first brick-and-mortar bank that fits our modern understanding did not open until a generation or two later. Rather than dive into the weeds and become entangled in a dissection of what constitutes the inception of a banking institution, the years on this list are the widely accepted and reported founding dates of each bank.

    Many of the ancient banks were created by governments and have functioned as central banks for European states for centuries. But incredibly, others have been family owned and operated, continuously, for tens of generations. The institutions on this list are ancient—older than the United States, older than St. Peter's Cathedral, even older than capitalism itself.

    So here are the 50 oldest banks in the world that are still operating today.

    You may also like: A history of banking over the last 30 years

  • #48. Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (tie)

    - Year founded: 1818
    - Country: United States
    - Historic country: United States

    The original bank was founded by Alexander Brown, who moved to Baltimore from Ireland and, after amassing a fortune in the linen business, started the Bank of Alex. Brown & Sons in 1818 with his four boys in Philadelphia. Alexander passed away in 1834, but his sons continued expanding the business, opening different branches in New York and even England. The Brown Brothers merged in 1931 with the Harriman family businesses to form Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. One of the founding members of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. was Prescott Bush, the father of President George H.W. Bush and the grandfather of President George W. Bush.

  • #48. Groupe Caisse d'Épargne (tie)

    - Year founded: 1818
    - Country: France
    - Historic country: Bourbon Restoration (Kingdom of France)

    First founded in Paris in 1818, the Caisse d'Epargne was long thought of as a private bank for the public. In 1878, the first Banque Populaire was founded in order to allow entrepreneurs to pool and fund their projects cooperatively. The two merged in 2009, creating the Groupe BPCE, which instantly became France's second largest bank.

  • #48. Berliner Sparkasse (tie)

    - Year founded: 1818
    - Country: Germany
    - Historic country: Prussia

    Initially founded in Berlin in 1818, Berliner Sparkasse is a sparkasse, which means it functions as a savings bank (an institution to accept savings and payout interest). In 1990, it merged to become the Landesbank Berlin AG, a universal bank, which could both lend and hold savings. More than 200 years later, it is still based in Berlin.

  • #45. SNS Bank (tie)

    - Year founded: 1817
    - Country: Netherlands
    - Historic country: Netherlands

    Initially founded in 1817, the bank was the first savings bank in all of the Netherlands. In 1987, a merger made the bank an economic force in the Netherlands, leading to rapid growth throughout the 1990s. In 2013, the bank was nationalized; today the Dutch state owns and operates SNS Bank.

  • #45. Bank of Montreal (tie)

    - Year founded: 1817
    - Country: Canada
    - Historic country: Lower Canada

    The first branch of the Bank of Montreal opened on Nov. 3, 1817; at the time, it was based in a rented home in the Canadian city. The bank was first called Montreal Bank and changed its name to Bank of Montreal in 1822. BMO has grown into a behemoth in its 200-year history: It started with £250,000 and now controls over $728 billion.

  • #45. Bank of New South Wales (tie)

    - Year founded: 1817
    - Country: Australia
    - Historic country: New South Wales

    Australia's oldest bank started in 1817 and had its first crisis four years later: it wasn't an economic crash; rather, the bank's chief cashier ran off with half of the money. Still, the bank persevered, eventually buying Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 and changing its name to Westpac Banking Corporation.

  • #44. Banque Bonhôte & Cie

    - Year founded: 1815
    - Country: Switzerland
    - Historic country: Neuchâtel

    Founded by Louis Petitmaître in the Swiss canton Neuchâtel in 1815, Banque Bonhôte was the first private bank in the region. It was an 1895 partnership with Paul Bonhôte that gave the bank the name Banque Bonhôte & Cie. The bank was briefly owned by a holding company from 1988 to 1992, but has been privately owned for all the rest of its two-century history.

  • #43. De Nederlandsche Bank

    - Year founded: 1814
    - Country: Netherlands
    - Historic country: Netherlands

    De Nederlandsche Bank was first founded by King William I of Netherlands in 1814. The bank has long been the Netherlands' national bank, though its role changed in 1999 with the launch of the euro, the official currency of the European Union. De Nederlandsche Bank is now a part of the European System of Central Banks.

  • #41. Citibank (tie)

    - Year founded: 1812
    - Country: United States
    - Historic country: United States

    On June 16, 1812, after over a year of political wrangling, the City Bank of New York opened its doors. The original board was split down the middle between New York businessmen aligned with President James Madison and New York businessmen who sided with Vice President George Clinton; with the power evenly balanced between them, the bank was allowed to open. In the early 1900s, the bank opened a garish columned branch on 55 Wall Street. In 1977, Citibank launched its first ATM in Queens. Citibank was hit hard during the 2008 market crash, but rebounded with the help of the government bailout by the end of 2010.

  • #41. Sparkasse Schwyz (tie)

    - Year founded: 1812
    - Country: Switzerland
    - Historic country: Schwyz

    The bank was opened in the Swiss canton of Schwyz on April 24, 1812 by Augustin Schibig, who was an ordained priest. It was not until 1879 that the bank opened its first official branch; for its first 67 years, transactions were made within the apartment of the bank’s administrator. In 2004, the bank was transformed into a company with shareholders, though residents of Schwyz still owned the majority of the stakes in the firm.

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