Lazard 175: Building a British Banking Empire

As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Lazard's founding in 1848, we are commemorating this momentous occasion by highlighting some of the most celebrated episodes and leaders from the firm's history. Below, we share the story of Lazard's beginnings in the United Kingdom.

Lazard’s presence in the United Kingdom began as a temporary measure. With Paris under siege during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Alexandre Lazard opened an interim London office to ensure that uninterrupted client service would be maintained.

Following the conclusion of the war, and Lazard’s transition out of dry goods and into a chartered bank, a permanent branch was opened in 1876 at 60 Old Broad Street, just steps from the Bank of England in the heart of the City of London.

A presence in the United Kingdom provided the firm with several advantages; the cost of capital was lower in Britain than in the United States or France, and a London charter provided Lazard with the opportunity to leverage the nation’s commercial ties to Asia. Indeed, the firm quickly began establishing correspondent offices around the world.

Nonetheless, during its first two decades, Lazard’s London bank (known as Lazard Brothers) maintained a relatively quiet existence. With minimal capital of its own, it served primarily as a support branch for Lazard’s international operations.

This changed with an infusion of capital in 1901 and the arrival of Robert Kindersley in 1905. A respected London banker who served on the board of the Bank of England, Kindersley was a strongwilled, physically imposing man. He would shortly hire Robert Brand, who was not a banker but a distinguished economist, once referred to as “the wisest man in the Empire.”

The British Empire was at the peak of its powers in the early 20th century and Lazard Brothers became well-connected among England’s network of globe-trotting mercantilists, bankers, and adventurous businessmen.

Robert Kindersley joined the Hudson’s Bay Company Board of Directors, and in 1908, Lazard Brothers launched its first issue on the London market, a successful million-pound bond offering for the Canadian Northern Railway, to fund construction of a railroad from Montreal to Vancouver. Lazard Brothers would soon come to specialize in the introduction of growth-stage Canadian companies on the British market. The firm was also active in financing the economic development of Mexico, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

During the First World War, the two Roberts served on government boards in Britain, devoting the firm’s efforts almost exclusively to helping finance the Allied cause. After the war, Kindersley and Brand aggressively invested in international growth, expanding in Europe with new offices in Belgium, Germany, and Spain. Lazard Brothers became a leading underwriter of foreign government bonds, including issues for the Dutch Indies, Argentina, Colombia, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia.

Robert Kindersley and Robert Brand carried on the tradition of Lazard bankers equally at ease in the worlds of commerce and government, and they brought the firm’s global perspective to an altogether new level. Together, they transformed Lazard’s London operations from a sleepy branch office into one of the three Houses of Lazard.