Creation of Lombard Odier
Deliberate choice or necessity?
Since the early Middle Ages, Geneva takes advantage of its geographical location, ideally suited for trading across the Alps. Its big commercial fairs attracts traders and bankers from all over Europe. It is not surprising that the famous Medici Bank has a branch in Geneva, besides offices in Florence and Avignon. Surrounded by Savoy, France, Austria and Switzerland, the city skillfully plays to its competitive advantages and wins international fame by being the host of the best known commercial trade fair together with the cities of Lyons and Bruges.
When Geneva becomes Protestant, in 1536, it attracts, thanks to the founding principles of John Calvin, a stream of people fleeing religious persecution. Amongst them Italians (including the Lombard family), Dutch and English. These are traders and skilled craftsmen who quickly assimilate in Geneva. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, another wave of refugees passes through our town and four thousand French Huguenots settle in Geneva (amongst them the Odier family of Valence).
At the turn of the 18th century, these Huguenot families become Geneva’s first prominent bankers. By that time, Louis XIV’s lust for glory has ruined France’s finances. In an irony of history, the Sun King has to appeal to the Huguenots, the very same people he prosecuted, to finance his wars and take care of the remittances to his armies abroad. This gives rise to the wealthy banker families Mallet, Lullin and Gallatin. Their legacy is still visible in the magnificent “Hotels Particuliers” they built, re-shaping the city of Geneva. However, less than hundred years later, the 1789 revolution marks an abrupt end of this flourishing period. With their wealth loaned to the French monarchy, these families lose all and face ruin. The bloody course of the French Revolution also severely damages Geneva’s export market for silk, printed cotton and watches. Geneva’s affluent customers are either killed, in prison or in exile.
During these troubled years, with Geneva’s traditional bankers ruined and the town’s export business suffering, Henri Hentsch and Jean Gédéon Lombard establish our bank. Created in 1796 as “Hentsch & Cie”, it becomes two years later “Henri Hentsch & Lombard”. Was it out of necessity? Or did they spot a business opportunity?
Choice or necessity? We will never know. What we know is that our founders share an innate sense of trade, the ability to manage money and a deep faith in the fundamental values of hard work, avid curiosity and openness to innovation. By establishing a stand-alone Bank which makes its income exclusively from commission, they create the first of many innovations in our long history.