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Geneva, a financial centre

A key global financial centre, Geneva can look back on a 500-year-old banking tradition.


The privileged location of Geneva – at the crossroads of Europe – led to the creation and development of fairs at an early stage in its history. The first records of them date back to 1187. In the 14th century, there were four annual fairs in the city, attracting numerous merchants and traders from around the Mediterranean basin and northern Europe. These fairs reached their zenith in the first half of the 15th century.

Geneva therefore began emerging as an important banking centre: traders developed new activities such as exchange, credit or the provision of payment orders. In 1387, interest-bearing loans were authorised by Bishop Adhémar Fabri despite being severely condemned by the Church. This would facilitate trade and promote Geneva’s development as a major banking centre.

International influence

At the turn of the 17th century, following the gradual disappearance of the fairs in the 16th century, Geneva was one of the largest European centres of wealth accumulation. The city boasted major international commercial networks and financed numerous companies around the world, such as the Dutch East Indies Company and the Royal Bank of England.

In the 18th century, the small city-state of Geneva, specialised in activities making use of small raw materials: this was the start of the watchmaking industry – imported by the French – and the jewellery business. The profits from these activities were invested in the banks, making Geneva one of the leading financial centres on the continent at that time.

Development and specialisation

In 1798, Geneva was annexed to the “Grande Nation”, under the impetus of the local Jacobins. Its banks and industries suffered as a result and the city fell into a serious economic depression.

Nevertheless, following the restoration of the Republic in 1814 and membership of the Confederation in 1815, Geneva enjoyed a dramatic upturn in its banking and watchmaking activities. The Geneva stock market was founded in 1857, some 25 years before those of Basel and Zurich. Geneva’s banks were seen as a motor of industrial development both of Switzerland and of Europe.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of banks were founded in Geneva. These banks specialised in pure wealth management, an activity which would developed considerably with the end of World War Two in 1945.

Sixth financial centre in the world

Today, Geneva is ranked in sixth place among the world’s leading financial centres, and second in Switzerland. It is ranked first in terms of private wealth management. Geneva manages more than half the foreign capital invested in the country and 27% of the world’s private off-shore fortune (invested abroad).

Geneva also plays a key role in global trade and the funding thereof. More than 500 trading companies are based or represented in Geneva.

A guarantee of stability and quality of life

Almost 140 banking establishments, including 60 foreign banks, are based in Geneva. Furthermore, the financial sector accounts for almost one-quarter of the cantonal gross domestic product (GDP). More than 34,000 people work in Geneva’s financial sector. The banking sector thus makes a major contribution to the quality of life and economic stability of the city.

Article modifié le 02.03.2020 à 14:30