Felix Schuster

Sir Felix Schuster (1854-1936) was a banker. He was governor of Union Bank of London and a director of National Provincial Bank.

Background and education

Felix Otto Schuster was born on 21 April 1854 in Frankfurt am Main, the third son of Francis Schuster and his wife Marie Pfeiffer. Francis was a merchant banker with business interests in cotton.

In 1869, following the Prussian annexation of Hesse, the Schuster family emigrated to Britain, settling in the cotton town of Manchester. Felix was initially educated at Frankfurt Gymnasium and later attended Owen’s College, Manchester, and Geneva Academy.

As a youth he was an enthusiastic musician and also acquired fluency in several languages.

Banker

Felix Schuster started his career in Frankfurt am Main in 1873, but soon moved to London. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1875 and in around 1878 became a partner in the family business, Schuster, Son & Co, of Cannon Street, London.

In 1887 part of Schuster, Son & Co was acquired by Union Bank of London, a bank which, unlike most other joint stock banks of the time, was heavily involved in international finance. Schuster was appointed a director of the bank after the acquisition, becoming deputy governor in 1893 and governor in 1895. He was closely involved in the detailed running of the bank, determined to avoid all speculative business and committed to protecting the interests of both shareholders and customers.

In 1902 Schuster negotiated Union Bank’s acquisition of Smith, Payne & Smiths, writing reassuringly to the general manager of Smith’s that ‘As long as I have been in charge of the affairs of the Union Bank…my chief aim has always been to maintain its position and to establish between the bank and its clients a personal relationship and feeling of goodwill which is usually not associated with joint stock banks’. A year later, in 1903, Union of London & Smith’s Bank acquired Wigan, Mercer, Tasker & Co, London & Yorkshire Bank and Prescott’s Bank, further enhancing Schuster’s banking reputation. Later, in 1918, he negotiated Union of London & Smith’s Bank’s acquisition by National Provincial Bank. The new National Provincial & Union Bank became one of England's ‘Big Five’ clearing banks. Schuster remained a member of its board, attending regularly until his death.

Schuster served terms as vice president and president of the Institute of Bankers between 1898 and 1936; chairman of the London Committee of Clearing Bankers, 1913-5 and 1925-6; chairman of the Central Association of Bankers, 1913-5 and 1925-6; and president of the British Bankers’ Association, 1925-6.

Public roles

Schuster, along with Edward Holden of Midland Bank, was one of Britain’s leading clearing bankers in the decades before the First World War. His insightful chairman’s speeches at Union Bank’s general meetings were influential and widely reported. Respected for his business and banking knowledge, he was often asked to advise the government and frequently consulted by Chancellors of the Exchequer. He was a member of the Royal Commission on London Traffic, 1903-4; the Board of Trade Commission for the Amendment of Company Law, 1905; the India Council in London, 1906-16; and the India Office Committee on Indian Railway Finance & Administration, 1907.

Schuster, an ardent anti-protectionist, stood unsuccessfully as Liberal free trade candidate for the City of London at the 1906 general election, in which the tariff reform issue led to a landslide defeat of the Conservatives. Schuster’s writings and speeches on the subject were highly influential.

He was created a baronet in 1906.

Family life and leisure interests

Felix Schuster was married to Meta (1860-1918), daughter of Hermann Weber, a Rhineland physician who had emigrated to England in 1879. Three years earlier her sister, Hilda, had married Schuster’s brother, Ernest. Schuster and Meta had one son and four daughters together.

Schuster enjoyed music, travel and mountaineering. He was an honorary secretary and vice president of the Alpine Club. He visited Switzerland every summer and continued to climb until relatively late in life.

Felix Schuster's elder brother was the noted physicist Sir Arthur Schuster.

Death

Felix Schuster died on 13 May 1936 at Ruthin Castle, Denbighshire. He was buried at Fernhurst church, close to his Sussex home. A memorial service was also held in the City of London. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son Felix Victor, who was also a member of the London local board of National Provincial Bank.

Related publications

  • Obituary in The Times, 15 May 1936
  • ‘Sir Felix Schuster’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • ‘A great banker’, Bankers’ Magazine, June 1936
  • H Withers, National Provincial Bank 1833-1933 (London: privately published by National Provincial Bank, 1933)