Top 10 famous bankers in the world
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Love it or loathe it, investment banking is an essential part of the modern capitalist system, making markets and providing financing and advice to corporate clients.
The modern banking system is a result of a process of continual innovation over the decades — so here are some of the banking families and famous bankers responsible for how the world of finance developed.
Family net worth: $400 billion-$1 trillion based on different estimations.
The Rothschilds are some of the richest investment bankers in modern history who considerably impacted the world economy and investment banking in particular. The most influential members of the family are Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the dynasty founder, and Nathan Mayer Rothschild.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), Nathan Mayer Rothschild almost single-handedly bankrolled the war effort of Britain and her allies, while towards the end of the century, the family acquired full control of the mining giant Rio Tinto from the Spanish government.
The family was hugely influential across Europe and presided over significant financial institutions in Britain, France, and Austria. Today, the Rothschilds themselves aren’t as involved in finance, but they still own the highly respected British investment bank that carries their name and preserve substantial capital. For instance, Nathaniel Rothschild owns $1 billion of capital.
Junius & JP Morgan
Junius Spencer Morgan
|Born:||April 14, 1813, Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States.|
|Died:||April 8, 1890, Monte Carlo, Monaco.|
|Net worth:||$12,400 (equivalent to $370 million today).|
John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (J.P. Morgan)
|Born:||April 17, 1837, Hartford, Connecticut, United States.|
|Died:||March 31, 1913, Rome, Lazio, Italy.|
|Net worth:||$80 million, equivalent to $2.2 billion today.|
Junius Morgan was an American banker and the progenitor of the Morgan banking dynasty.
Junius Morgan founded a merchant bank in 1864 (today’s JPMorgan Chase & Co) that would eventually become one of the best investment banks in the world, creating such financial giants as Morgan Stanley.
Today, it bears the name of his son — a certain John Pierpont, who has been credited with averting a massive financial crisis in 1907. JP Morgan also pioneered the practice of “restructuring”: working to return a struggling company to health by rejigging its operations and finances.
Paul M Warburg
|Born:||August 10, 1868, Hamburg, Germany|
|Died:||January 24, 1932, New York City, United States.|
|Born:||September 30, 1902, Seeburg, Germany.|
|Died:||October 18, 1928, London, United Kingdom.|
Family net worth: Undisclosed.
Perhaps second only to the Rothschilds, the Warburgs were one of the most prolific banking families of all time. One of its most prominent members was Paul M Warburg. After serving as a director of Wells Fargo, he was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of the American central bank in 1914.
Paul M Warburg was already famous for his advocacy of central banking, inspired by Robert Morris, the founding father of the United States who suggested this model back in 1781.
Not only did Warburg’s convictions ensure that the Fed was established, but he also issued a dire warning of the impending Wall Street Crash on his deathbed in March 1929.
Paul’s younger relative Siegmund Warburg was equally influential in the banking world on the other side of the Atlantic.
He fled from the Nazi regime during the Second World War (having allegedly worked with MI6) before founding S. G. Warburg in 1946, which became a major British investment bank before being acquired by UBS. His most significant achievement was arguably establishing the Eurobond market, which was a major innovation in global trading.
|Born:||May 6, 1870, San Jose, California, United States.|
|Died:||June 3, 1949, San Mateo, California, United States.|
It often seems that the world of finance is skewed toward the rich and powerful – but it was even more so at the turn of the 20th century. Enter Amadeo Giannini, an American investor and an innovator in the banking industry.
Born in California to Italian immigrants, Giannini had made his fortune by his thirties but grew frustrated at how his newly-arrived, hardworking compatriots were being refused banking services.
In response, he founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, and started a revolution — suddenly, depositing savings and taking out loans was not just the preserve of wealthy merchants.
In 1928, Giannini merged with the fledgling Bank of America, Los Angeles, and presided over the newly-named Bank of America until his retirement in 1945, continuing his mission to bring banking services to everyone that needed them.
Giannini was also prepared to provide financing in the wake of the global financial crisis. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, he granted loans for reconstruction with nothing more than a handshake, and he purchased the bonds that funded the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933.
|Born:||June 12, 1915, New York City, United States.|
|Died:||March 20, 2017, Pocantico Hills, New York, United States.|
|Net worth:||$3.3 billion.|
David Rockefeller was a famous American financier, chief executive of Chase Manhattan Corporation, and an evil genius in the eyes of many conspiracy theorists.
Rockefeller joined Chase National Bank in 1946, working in the Foreign Department, and oversaw the construction of the bank’s new headquarters in Manhattan in 1954.
It was his spell as chairman and CEO though, from 1969 to 1980, for which he is most remembered, as under his leadership Chase became an enormous player in the international banking system.
The number of correspondent banks grew exponentially, and it was Rockefeller who oversaw the establishment of a Chase branch in Moscow in 1973 — the first time an American bank had premises in the then-Soviet Union. That same year, he traveled to China and ensured that Chase became the National Bank of China’s first American correspondent bank.
|Born:||December 9, 1821, Trappstadt, Bavaria, Germany.|
|Died:||July 20, 1904, Elberon, New Jersey, United States.|
Marcus Goldman was a famous American economist, investment banker, and the founder of Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world.
Marcus was a prominent banker from the very beginning of his international finance career. He became a pioneer in the commercial paper business, selling merchants’ promissory notes to commercial banks.
He also was the first to assess a company value through its goodwill and earning power, attracting more investors than ever before. These and many other innovations reshaped the investment banking industry of that time, making Goldman Sachs and its owner even more successful.
Jorge Paulo Lemann
|Born:||August 26, 1939, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.|
|Net worth:||$21.5 billion in 2022.|
Jorge Paulo Lemann is a Swiss-Brazilian investment banker, entrepreneur, and the founder of 3G Capital, a global investment firm famous for its stellar, multi-billion acquisitions.
Soon after graduating from Harvard Business School, Jorge Lemann, together with his fellow entrepreneurs, founded his first investment banking firm, Banco Garantia.
Later, Jorge successfully implemented American financial approaches to Brazilian banking and acquired several beer manufacturers, controlling over 65% of the Brazilian beer market by 2004.
The same year, he founded 3G Capital, a global investment firm that owns Burger King, Kraft Heinz, and other food giants.
|Born:||April 25, 1938, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Net worth:||$28.6 billion in 2022.|
James Harris Simons is a billionaire hedge fund manager, a genius mathematician, a code breaker, and a master of quantitative investing.
Jim dedicated his post-graduation years to mathematics, studying geometry and topological multi-dimensional spaces. In 1974, he discovered special classes of 3-manifolds, laying the foundation for the topological quantum field theory formulated by Albert Schwarz 26 years later, in 2000.
In 1978, the mathematician founded Monemetrics (future Renaissance Technologies) and introduced a revolutionary approach to investing using quantitative analysis. As of 2022, Renaissance Technologies has over $55 billion of assets under management.
|Born:||September 1, 1938, Beirut, Lebanon.|
|Died:||December 10, 2020, São Paulo, Brazil.|
|Net worth:||$19.9 billion.|
Joseph Safra was a Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire, Safra Group chairman, the world’s richest banker, and the wealthiest person in Brazil.
The Safra Jewish family found peace in Brazil, leaving their home country, Lebanon, due to prosecutions. Joseph Safra was a generational banker who founded Banco Safra that later became one of the most successful Brazilian banks.
Later in his life, he ruled Safra Group, a network of privately-owned banks holding over 200 premier real estate assets worldwide.
Joseph was a reserved man who always steered clear from the press and general public and disclosed his financial decisions after ensuring the deal was in the bag.
|Born:||August 8, 1949.|
|Net worth:||$19.1 billion in 2022.|
Ray Dalio is an American billionaire investor, a founder of Bridgewater Associates, and one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers.
Raymond Thomas Dalio was born to become one of the richest people in the world, starting investing at the age of 12.
Ray started Bridgewater Associates in 1974 as a financial advisory firm that grew into the world’s largest hedge fund with over $150 billion of assets under management.
The hedge fund was so famous and successful that President Barack Obama picked its executive, James Brien Comey Jr., as an FBI director in 2013.
However, you feel about the most successful investment bankers, it’s undeniable that today’s financial system is a crucial pillar of modern life — so next time you use an ATM in a foreign country or read about the Fed’s latest plans, spare a thought for these innovators of yesteryear.