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The curious case of the European aristocracy in banking

You have a new European colleague with an odd name. A very long name, an extraordinarily… Fancy name. Dignified name, perhaps. It has a certain loftiness to it. Nobility, even.

Well, they could very well just be aristocrats. Even in countries like France – which has historically had a difficult relationship with its nobility, let’s say – the old elite still own substantial economic, political, and social capital. Nearly a third of England is owned by “aristocracy and gentry,” the Guardian says.

The point isn’t political – but to hint that the high barriers of entry for finance can be less of a hurdle to those whose family have had the “right stuff” for several centuries. But how do you spot the 1% when you’re surrounded by them?

British

It’s hard to tell the difference between a British aristocrat and a garden-variety “posho”, really, and the ones that have a title never really use it in professional contexts. Your best bet is to ask them which of the royal family are their godparents – if they have a confused look on their face, they’re not aristocrats.

Other than the obvious examples of aristocrats in finance, such as the Barons Rothschild, look to Arthur Mornington, the Marquess of Douro and descendent of the Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and partner at private equity fund Oakley Capital.

France

Identifying a French aristocrat isn’t as easy as spying a “de” in someone’s name (although the correlation is pretty strong). In all likelihood, they’ll tell you – they’ve learnt subtlety in the last 250 years, but not humility.

The most famous example is probably Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, the current head of the royal house (of Napoléon – there are a few claimants to the French throne, it’s an ugly situation). He was at Blackstone for five years in London before leaving to co-found Leon Capital, a private equity firm, with Christos Lavidas, a former KKR Principal.

Germany

It’s pretty easy to find a stray member of the German aristocracy. Although noble privileges (and the monarchy) were abolished in 1919, titles were not, and they’re pretty easy to identify – the list of names is pretty long, but you can find ‘Herzog’s, ‘Graf’s, and ‘Freiherr’s (such as von Rothschild) without much difficulty. A “von” in the name is a strong indicator, too.

Deutsche Bank’s CFO, James von Moltke, is a good example – he’s related to both Helmuth von Moltke (commonly known as Moltke the Elder) and the other Helmuth von Moltke (as you might have guessed, the Younger). Both ancestors, the Elder especially, were leading military men in the German state and aristocracy.

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Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: Zeno.Toulon@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon

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