Situated at the crossroads of major trade routes from the Mediterranean to Flanders and from Italy to France, Geneva became an important center of trade many centuries ago.
In 1387, Bishop Adhémar Fabri granted the people of Geneva "franchises" that confirmed their ancient freedoms and awarded some new ones. One of these was the privilege to lend money with interest. No other Christian nation enjoyed this right, since the Church vehemently opposed money-lending at that time.
- Geneva bankers, builders of Europe
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Geneva was one of the main centers of European trade. Transfers of funds, payment orders, loans and foreign exchange transactions saw traders become bankers.
By the seventeenth century, Geneva had developed global trading networks. Geneva’s bankers underwrote the Dutch East India Company, the Royal Bank of England, the Manufacture Royal des Glaces (Saint-Gobain, the first industrial firm in Europe) and many other enterprises.
Geneva’s bankers advised ministers and kings and occasionally even became ministers themselves. Albert Gallatin became Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and negotiated the purchase of Louisiana; Georges Prévost was Governor General of Canada; Pierre Isaac Tellusson was Director of the Bank of England, and Jacques Necker was Finance Minister to Louis XVI of France.
During the nineteenth century, Geneva’s bankers contributed to the industrial and commercial development of Switzerland and Europe by helping to fund new railways and issuing government bonds.
Switzerland's first stock exchange opened in Geneva in 1857, a quarter of a century before the stock exchanges of Zurich and Basel. This institution further enhanced Geneva’s growing reputation as a financial center. The Geneva Bourse was the fifth largest stock exchange in Europe at the time, after Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Paris. Numerous foreign securities were already being traded there.
- A center of wealth management and trade
A number of commercial banks were established around the turn of the century in Geneva and organized as limited companies. As a result, Geneva’s private banks increasingly specialised in pure wealth management. This activity became increasingly important to the Geneva financial center after the end of the Second World War. In the following decades, the expertise and tradition of private banking in Geneva attracted increasing numbers of Swiss and foreign commercial banks, financial companies and service providers to the region, transforming it into a world capital of wealth management.