In 1786, Jean-Conrad Hottinger was just twenty-six and living away from his family when he opened his first company, ‘Messieurs Rougemont and Hottinguer’ in Paris. A few months later, this company was registered as a bank in the Royal Almanac of France, with offices registered in the bustling Hôtel de Beau Pre, Croix-des-Petits-Champs, right opposite the new location for the Banque de France. Three years later he opened an eponymous bank, ‘Messieurs Hottinguer & Cie’.
Jean-Conrad worked hard and was ambitious. Times were turbulent. In 1793 he was denounced for “royalist activities” and fled back to Zurich, and then to England where he married his American sweetheart, Martha Eliza Redwood, daughter of an English family who had set up plantations in the United States. Whilst Europe bickered, in 1794 the young couple sailed to the East Coast of America where they met a group of French emigrants, including Talleyrand, the famous diplomat.
Jean-Conrad travelled extensively over the next few years and built up a fleet of clipper ships, one of which, The Hottinguer, sailed frequently to the New World from Liverpool and, during the mid-19th century, stopped frequently in Dublin to pick up Irish emigrants escaping the Potato Famine.
As well as being appointed Baron of the Empire for his services to Napoleon, Jean-Conrad was also named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, Colonel of the National Guard and a Deputy of the Seine region. His views were respected and became influential within the very closed circle of European Protestant banking families such as the Rothschilds, Delesserts, Barings, Mallets and Cazenoves.
In 1833 Jean-Henri, the heir apparent, was appointed as head of the bank at the age of 30. Times had again become turbulent but the Hottinger family continued to support the nascent industrialization in France, ensuring it kept pace with that of Great Britain. They backed the Compagnie Générale des Eaux at inception, funded railways and early experiments in electrical transmission. They also created early insurance products and launched Caisse d’Epargne de Paris in 1818 alongside Baron François Delessert, whose daughter and heiress Jean-Henri married, taking over Bank Delessert in 1848.
In 1866, as Victorian industrialization continued apace, Rodolphe, an energetic 34-year-old, took over the bank. He realized that merchant banks needed to become more accessible to the growing middle classes and open-minded in selecting clients. Rodolphe kept very busy, continuing as Regent of the Banque de France as well as becoming Chairman of the
Compagnie Générale des Eaux, the Imperial Ottoman Bank, Director of a group of insurance companies and vice president of two railways. His brother, Jean, co-founded the Jockey Club in Paris at this time and his other brother, Joseph, was an early aviation pioneer, Rodolphe’s younger son, Maurice, was also an entrepreneur and helped to create the Automobile Club de France.
After this Golden Age, with Europe acting as bank to the world, Rodolphe became increasingly concerned about levels of debt being held by French banks. The First World War was not kind to France, and some radical changes in the banking system had to be made. Rodolphe did find time to fund several important Protestant charities such the Society for the Rescue of the Military Wounded. He continued his work until his death at 85.
In 1920, at age 52, Henri succeeded his father as head of Bank Hottinger and during the Second World War he protected the interested of his clients by relocating the operations and assets of the bank, often at great personal risk. Before this, as Regent of the Banque de France, he negotiated with the Minister of Finance Poincaré to begin the process nationalization in 1936 which was completed at the end of the war in 1945, shortly after his death.
Rodolphe continued to support the French Banking ecosystem and stood as Vice-President of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, President of the International Chamber of Commerce, President of the European Banking Federation and, for more than 35 years, President of the Fédération Bancaire Française.
On Baron Rodolphe’s death in 1985 a period of retrenchment followed with the historic family bank in France soon being acquired by Crédit Suisse and the family seat, Chateau Piple being sold, alongside many valuable family heirlooms in auctions at Christies and Sotheby’s. The family became divided into factions with various family members setting up different and sometimes competing entities.
The sixth Baron, Henri (1934-2015) spent most of his life in Switzerland building a private banking business with other family members in an increasingly regulated and competitive market. They rapidly opened branches of Hottinger & Cie throughout the world’s major capital markets including New York and Paris. In 1981 Henri set up Groupe Financière Hottinger & Co in London and employed the core team which still manages assets there today. He slowly sold down his stake in the Swiss bank, understanding that the traditional model of private banking was over.
The current seventh Baron Rodolphe (b. 1956) left the bank in 2009 to focus on his other businesses and his younger brother, Frédéric, resigned in 2013. By 2015 the Swiss based bank had 50 employees globally and 1500 clients but was embroiled in litigation, undercapitalised and unable to compete. Sadly, in the same year that Henri died, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority declared the 230-year-old company bankrupt and shut its doors.
Frédéric Hottinger inherited much of his father’s business estate, including the jewel in the crown, the UK based wealth management business, along with a majority stake in their new banking operation, Lyford. In 2016, he invited in new partners to relaunch the Hottinger Group, focusing on traditional family values and providing exemplary services to high net worth individuals.