The venerable Frankfurt-based Metzler Bank is one of Germany’s oldest banks – and part of a dying breed of privately-owned banks in Europe’s largest economy. It emerged from the textile trade and has been in family ownership for 337 years. Over the years, the institution’s development has always been tied to the one of family’s key principles: maintain independence.
Friedrich von Metzler, 71, is one of the few German bankers to emerge through the recent global financial crisis with his public trust intact. His advice has been sought by politicians including Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Mr. von Metzler joined the management of B. Metzler seel. Sohn & Co. in 1971. His guiding principle: Exercise common sense. He is one of the few remaining old-school bankers in Germany, and he thinks in terms of generations and not in short-term optimized transactions.
Emmerich Müller, who was born in 1956, has been working for the bank since 2000. In early 2005, he was named a general partners and effectively become Metzler’s top banker. Mr. Müller is in charge of the bank’s operating business and has managed to come through the financial crisis with his reputation unscathed.
Interviews with the leaders of Metzler Bank have become something of a tradition at Handelsblatt over the past decade. Their views and stories offer a window into the German banking scene, from two men widely considered to be the conscience of the industry.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Müller, the name Metzler stands for the last purely private bank in Germany. Does it fill you with sadness to see this breed threatened with extinction?
Mr. Müller: There are still a number of very agile private banks. Warburg, Berenberg and the Castell’sche Bank, come to mind, for example. But there aren’t many more, you’re right about that. However, this consolidation process is affecting all sectors of the financial industry.
But who would found a private bank today after the industry suffered an unparalleled lost of confidence. Will the reputation ever be restored?
Mr. von Metzler: All of the banks are working on that. We are moving in the right direction. Two-thirds of the path is behind us.
These efforts are barely recognized in politics. Politicians love to criticize the banks.
Mr. Müller: That has changed now. Banks are no longer being pilloried. It has been recognized today that the credit standing of a bank and a respective state are closely linked. And the political will to regulate the financial institutions should also have reached its high point.
The Metzler Bank has been in existence for almost 350 years. Were banks attacked on such a massive scale in earlier times?
Mr. von Metzler: In the 1920s and ’30s, almost every bank had to be supported. At the time there was a call for nationalization, and that comes up time and again. Don’t forget, one of the causes for the murders of the bank managers Jürgen Ponto and Alfred Herrhausen was a partially-radicalized public debate on the power of the banks. That was only 25 years ago.
Nationalization certainly doesn’t play a role anymore today.
Mr. von Metzler: But historically seen, the issue was always there. It was, for example, carried out in France in the 1980s. It was a realistic fear of bankers following the Second World War. At the time, the major banks wished to have many private institutions to make nationalization more complicated, if not even impossible.