THE ORIGINS OF A FAMILY OF BANKERS
In the financial sector, the past has an unparalleled importance in determining
the present and providing solid guarantees for the future.
It was the 19th century and the memory of Napoleon’s military campaigns was still
fresh in the minds of Europeans. The world was becoming well aware of the effects
of the Industrial Revolution as the economies of Europe, the Mediterranean and North
America flourished, all thanks to major inventions - the steam engine and electricity
- and the movement of ships, caravans and now railroads that transported and sold
agricultural products and the most diverse merchandise.
Financing for this intense commercial movement came from bankers, who would one
day become legends. Families like the Rothschilds in Europe, the Rockfellers later
in America and the Safras in the Middle East began a lineage of financiers, laying
the foundation for modern banking based on improved communication and the growing
demand for trade between cities.
Particularly intense was the exchange of merchandise between the ports and cities
of Europe, such as Paris, Nice, Marseille, Madrid, Barcelona, Naples, Trieste, Genoa
and Venice with cities like Alexandria, Athens, Istanbul, Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo,
Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In this region of the Middle East, members of one
Jewish family, known for a long tradition of dedication to financing in gold, earning
them, in turn, the Arab name for the color of the precious metal: Safra.
One of the major centers of trade was Aleppo, a city in northwestern Syria. It was
there that merchants and goods from the East and West converged. The city was also
home to the Safra family, who with their cosmopolitan vocation financed trade and
exchanged currencies from several different countries in Asia, Europe and Africa,
including the Ottoman Empire’s “para”, the Venice’s “zecchini” and the Maria Theresa’s
“thaler” as well as precious metal like silver and gold mainly. In Aleppo, Jacob
Safra, the patriarch, was known for his exceptional ability to mentally calculate
the conversion of several currencies as well as the financing costs for each and
every one of his clients.
In the mid 19th century, Safra Frères et Cie. was founded in Aleppo, a bank bearing
the name of the renowned family. In no time at all. the institution earned fame
and prestige throughout the Middle East, building a solid reputation as highly selective
financiers. Safra Frères et Cie.’s strong expansion prompted the family to open
branches in Istanbul, Alexandria and Beirut.
Later, in the first half of the 20th century, Beirut was chosen to be the headquarters
of the Jacob Safra Bank, founded by the patriarch of what would later become another
generation of successful bankers. After World War II, Jacob Safra expanded his business
to Europe and later to Latin America and the US.
His offspring likewise gained prominence for their expertise in banking, continuing
a long-standing relationship with a community of clients. Today, several of Jacob’s
grandsons continue the Safra family tradition in diverse economic areas throughout
the many countries where the bank thrives.