The Origins of a Family of Banker


In the financial sector, the past has an unparalleled importance in determining the present and providing solid guarantees for the future.


JACOB SAFRA, founder

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 traded agricultural products and the most diverse merchandise.

Financing for this intense commercial movement came from bankers, who would one day become legends. From among them, the Safra family began a lineage of financiers in the Middle East, laying the foundation for modern banking based on improved information quality 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 and Aleppo – a city in northwestern of Syria and one of the major centers of trade. It was there that merchants and goods from the East and West converged.

Aleppo 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 bullion such as silver and, mainly, gold.

Despite the development of general accounting policies, 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 before 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 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.

Banco Safra S.A., the fifth-largest private bank in Brazil by assets, is recognized worldwide as a leading financial service provider. Its consolidated assets totalled R$140.4 billion on June 30, 2016, and on the same date its consolidated equity stood at R$9.5 billion, resulting in an annualized return on equity of 18.0%. 

In the first half of 2016 the bank’s efficiency ratio reached 38.7%, one of the best in the Brazilian financial system. 

Banco Safra S.A. offers a complete portfolio of products and services. It operates in all segments of the financial sector, always focusing on the exclusive and specific needs of its clients. In addition to basic services of current accounts, savings, checks, cards,  payments, collection, foreign exchange and private pension, every client can count on Safra’s tradition and experience in credit, financing, securities underwriting, investment fund administration, brokerage activities and insurance. 

Banco Safra is part of an international network of banks recognized worldwide for tradition, security and conservative business management. Safra Group operates in 19 countries and in June 2016 held a total of R$723 billion in free own funds, market funding and funds under management. 

Banco Safra (Cayman Islands) Limited is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banco Safra S.A. incorporated under Cayman Islands law. Known as Safra Cayman, the institution provides trade finance and related services for clients and correspondent banks as well as other branches and divisions of Safra Group. It also offers a wide array of other financial and business-related services, especially in the area of support for international trade.