Horace Finaly was first and foremost a merchant banker at the helm of Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas), but he also made his mark on his era through his involvement in political life and aroused considerable fascination among his contemporaries.
An international background
Horace Finaly was the son of a Hungarian financier of Jewish origin. In 1900, after completing his studies in Law, he joined Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. He symbolised in his own person the international spirit of Paribas through his mastery of foreign languages and his many trips abroad representing the bank. He travelled widely in Europe, visited South America in 1905, and voyaged around the world in 1907 via Russia, Japan and the United States. From the early years of the 20th century he also interested himself in industrial affairs, inter alia managing the relationship with Norwegian power and fertiliser producer Norsk Hydro. These two areas of interest marked his role at the head of the Bank after the First World War.
Chief Executive of Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas
The results that Horace Finaly obtained for the Bank led to his rapid rise through the hierarchy. Promoted to Manager in 1909 and then appointed Managing Director in 1919, he steered the bank towards investing in industries such as chemicals, power plant construction and steel-making, sectors where France was at that time lagging behind Germany. He advocated a policy of economic and political cooperation between European countries and made numerous investments in Central Europe – inter alia founding the Banque des Pays d’Europe centrale – and in the Mediterranean through the Ottoman Bank and the State Bank of Morocco. Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas played a vital role in taking control of the oilfields in Iraq, involving the Compagnie Française des Pétroles and Total, and in the Balkans with the Steaua Romana refinery, exerting some influence on the re-shaping of the countries which emerged from the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Horace Finaly was particularly intent on strengthening relations with the main media organs, taking stakes in Havas and Hachette and generally creating a powerful network around the Bank.
Man of mystery
In the France of the inter-war period, Horace Finaly projected an immense aura. He was a highly secretive person who even refused to be photographed. This perhaps explains how he was able to work with the successive different governments that came to rule France. He supported the left-wing political alliance known as the ‘Cartel des gauches’ and was a proponent of the devaluation of the French franc in 1928 under Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré. The right-wing press nicknamed him ‘Finaly Ist, King of the Republic’. He was a friend of the Socialist leader Léon Blum, advising him at the time of the election of his centre-left Popular Front government in 1936. In 1937 the French newspaper Journal des débats wrote that he ‘makes and unmakes ministries’. Horace Finaly even inspired novelists of the period: he is recognisable in Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (‘Remembrance of Things Past’) and in the banker Emmanuel Moïse, a character in Jean Giraudoux’s 1926 novel Bella. On 4 June 1937, the Board of Directors – at the time chaired by Emile Moreau, a former governor of the Banque de France (French Central Bank) – forced him to resign for political reasons. Legend has it that Finaly walked out of the rue d’Antin premises immediately, without even going back to his office! He left France in August 1940 to escape the effects of the new racial laws and spent his last years in New York, where he died on 20 May 1945.