The Times/1936/Obituary/Felix Schuster

Obituary: Felix Schuster — A noted London Banker  (1936) 

Source: The Times, Friday, May 15, 1936; pg. 17; Issue 47375. (5540 words)

A Noted London Banker

Sir Felix Schuster, Bt., of Verdley Place, Fernhurst, Sussex, who took an important part in great bank amalgamations, died on Wednesday at the age of 82.

Felix Otto Schuster was born on April 21, 1854, at Frankfort-on-the-Main, and was educated there and at the University of Geneva. One branch of his family had already been settled in England, and when Frankfort was absorbed in the German Empire his father, Francis Joseph, migrated with his family to England and became naturalized. Felix continued his studies at Owens College, Manchester, and at the age of 18 or 19 entered the banking firm of Schuster, Son and Co., into which the old family business had developed. In 1887 part of the business of Schuster, Son and Co. was taken over by the Union Bank of London, of which he was then elected a director. In 1893 he was elected deputy governor, and in the two years' time he succeeded as governor.

In this position Schuster influenced every detail in the daily administration of the bank. Not only had he an intimate knowledge of every account of any size, but he kept a close watch, week by week, on every branch. He regarded it as his first duty to care for the interests of his shareholders (particularly the small ones) and to preserve and increase the security of his depositors. In these matters he had no thought of personal ambition or financial interest, considering himself as much a servant of the State as if he had been a Civil servant. He possessed a rare knowledge of the technical side of banking and bill-broking, both English and foreign. Though he attended so carefully to detail, his mind was not absorbed in little things. He was by nature and training Liberal as Liberalism was understood in the second half of the nineteenth century, and he cherished the ambition of helpings to direct, for public ends, the financial policy of the country.

At the close of the nineteenth century many of the private banks were ill-fitted to withstand any violent and widespread strain. It seemed to Schuster that concentration of resources was necessary in the national interest. With this aim he negotiated with the proprietors of Smith Payne and Smiths and of their allied firms, which in 1902, largely through the help of Mr. Martin Ridley Smith, resulted in the amalgamation of those old and well-established businesses with Union Bank. It greatly increased Schuster's reputation. It was followed by similar operations with the London and Yorkshire Bank, an old customer of the Union Bank under the management of Mr. John Clutton-Brock, and with Messrs. Prescott, Dimsdale and Co. Some smaller private banks were also absorbed. The coping-stone was put on this policy when in 1919 Lord Inchcape and Schuster matured a scheme for welding together in one institution the National Provincial Bank of England and Union of London and Smiths Bank.

Meanwhile the fiscal controversy became acute, and a pamphlet by Schuster entitled "Foreign Trade and the Money Market" had a great effect on opinion in the City and throughout the country. At the General Election of 1906 he was persuaded to stand for the City as a Free Trade candidate. He failed, but his speeches and writings contributed materially to the success of the cause, and a baronetcy was conferred on him in July. He had already been appointed by Lord Morley to a sat on the Council of India, which he held until 1916, acting as Finance Member. He served on a number of Government Commissions, and assisted in the management of several hospitals, of University College, and of the London School of Economics. The War brought to him added responsibilities and heavy sorrows and anxieties. He had a sentimental regard for the old Germany, but for the new Gerany and its spirit he had nothing but abhorrence, He worked with Lord Cunliffe in the Foreign Exchange Committee, and in every other possible placed his services at the the disposal of the Government. It was largely due to his efforts that the important Resolution on World Restoration, the precursor of the Dawes Plan, was finally passed. He took the chair at the annual meeting of the National Provincial Bank in January, 1926, and in later years his interests in general financial and political affairs rather grew then lessened. His views on fiscal policy had by then suffered modification.

Schuster's bent was towards music and the mountains. He belonged to the generation which immediately succeeded that of the pioneers. In Switzerland he spent the happiest hours of his life, and almost to the end he visited the Riffelalp every summer, and took long walks when age forbade difficult expeditions. He was for many years a member of the Alpine Club, at one time its honorary secretary and subsequently vice-president.

Music was to him more than a personal recreation. The habits of his race and traditions of his birthplace induced a serious outlook towards the art and gave him a thorough knowledge of it. He had a boyish ambition to become a great musician. He was a pupil of Ernest Pauer, and in fact became a fine pianist. He was a friend to the musical art of others, a constant supporter of the opera in London, and unostentatiously of many musical causes. He became a liveryman of the Musician's Company, and delighted to further musical talent by showing his practical appreciation of it at home and abroad. He had many recollections of Eugène d'Albert, Sir Charles and Lady Hallé, and Joachim.

In person Schuster was strongly built and enjoyed an excellent constitution. His face, of a curious pallor, his square black beard, and his very deep brown eyes made him a striking figure. He was by nature shy, and this, with the intense earnestness with which he addressed himself to every problem, made him abrupt and formidable in ordinary conversation. He was extremely direct both in thought and speech, easily roused to indignation by what he considered unworthy in either word or action, He made excessive demands on himself and was prone to make excessive demands on others, But inwardly he was both tolerant and gentle, a great patriot, a kindly friend, and of the strongest family affections, His wife, a daughter of Sir Hermann Weber, died in 1918, and two daughters, one the wife of Mr. Justice Goddard, also died before him. He is succeeded by his son Felix Victor, educated at Winchester and new College, Oxford, who is married and has a son and two daughters.

The funeral at Fernhurst will be private. There will be a memorial service at St. Michael's, Cornhill, on Tuesday at noon.

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