Founding of Credit Suisse
Escher was born in 1819 into a country handicapped by major structural problems: Twenty-two cantons with different currencies; officialese that hindered business, education, and progress; a practically non-existent railway system to connect Switzerland to trade opportunities in Europe.
Early on, Escher made the sparsely developed railway infrastructure a priority and resolved that it should be privately funded. In order to maintain Switzerland’s autonomy, he determined that the capital should come from within Switzerland and not from abroad. And so on July 5, 1856, Escher founded the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, the forerunner to today's Credit Suisse, to fund the project. Within three days, the shares issued for a high of three million francs, had reached a value of 221 million francs.
In addition to the railway project, the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt began soon after to invest in many other areas of industry. In this way, it also made possible numerous fledgling businesses and enterprises.
A visionary with a healthy dose of reality, Escher was well aware of the risks of big undertakings and concerned for the safeguarding of people and projects. Thus in 1857 he founded Switzerland's first pension program, guaranteed by Credit Suisse funds. In 1863, he laid the financial basis for the hedging of a new reinsurance company. These two institutions, Swiss Life and Swiss Re, as well as Credit Suisse, are to this day world ambassadors for Swiss insurance and financial expertise. After establishing Credit Suisse, Alfred Escher served as chairman of its board for more than 20 years, from 1856 to 1877 and again from 1880 to 1882. A life's work that bore many fruit.