Nedbank’s history is an assemblage of 15 entities that merged into the group throughout the past two centuries allowing Nedbank to trace its origins back to 1831. This collective consists of entities such as the Board of Executors (BoE), Syfrets, the Permanent Mutual Building Society, the Cape of Good Hope Bank Savings Society, Boland Bank, UAL, the Natal Building Society, and of course the Nederlandsche Bank en Credietvereeniging.
The first South African branch of the Nederlandsche Bank en Credietvereeniging was opened in Church Street, Pretoria, in 1888. By 1897, the bank’s presence had grown exponentially, and a larger building was built. The structure, designed by WJ de Zwaan, was completed in 1897 and still stands today, and is in use by the Tshwane Tourism Office and is still known affectionately as the Old Netherlands Bank Building. This sandstone masterpiece served as Nedbank’s head office until 1953, when the bank moved into its third, and final, Pretoria-based head office, designed by Norman Eaton. It is still in use today, on what is now known as Thabo Sehume Street.
The first South African branch of the Nederlandsche Bank
Old post card of the Old Netherlands Bank Building
A more recent photograph of this sandstone masterpiece (The Heritage Portal)
From there, Nedbank moved its head offices to Johannesburg on 81 Main Street in the 1960s and again to 100 Main Street in 1987 until, finally, taking residence where it is today, at 135 Rivonia Road, setting up there in the early 2000s. This building was awarded South Africa’s first Green Star Building Rating in 2009.
100 Main Street (The Heritage Portal)
The Nedbank Buildings on Rivonia Road (The Heritage Portal)
What’s in a name?
The evolution of Nedbank’s name is a story in itself. Starting in 1888, Nederlandsche Bank en Credietvereeniging was an agency of the Dutch bank based in Amsterdam. In 1903, the entity was localised and renamed Nederlandsche Bank en Credietvereeniging voor Zuid-Afrika. This was the case until 1951, when the bank was renamed and rebranded as the Netherlands Bank of South Africa (NBSA). In 1969, the NBSA became fully South African-owned with the purchase of the remaining 20% stake from Mees en Hoop, and, by 1971, the name was shortened to Nedbank. The year 1989 saw another name change, to Nedcor, until the return to Nedbank in 2005.
The oldest trust company in the world
The Nedbank Historical Collection includes The South African Association for the Administration and Settlement of Estates. This trust was written into existence as an Act of Parliament on 22 April 1834 with the aim that it take over the role and function of the Orphan Chambers, which oversaw the legal administration of monies and assets belonging to orphans, widows and persons under tutelage. On 18 March 1836, the Association came into being also by an act of Parliament. The ordinance was initially for a period of 21 years but was extended for an additional 21 years in 1855 until 1875, when it was written into perpetuity with the proviso that it has a minimum of 30 members. Currently, the South African Association is the oldest trust in operation in the world. In 1970, The South African Association for the Administration and Settlement of Estates ceded its autonomy and merged into Syfrets, having continued to function as it still does today under Nedbank. It is from this entity that Nedbank Private Wealth gets its incredible pedigree dating back to 1834.
Of the more than dozen entities that make up Nedbank, three of them will be explored in this article, with the others looked at in the articles to follow.
Cape of Good Hope Bank Savings Society
The Cape of Good Hope Savings Bank Society was founded on 8 June 1831 as the first private bank in South Africa, and the second southern African bank following the founding of the Lombaard Bank (1792–1883). This was a controversial move, as the British colonial government disapproved highly of private banks that would act as competition to the Imperial banking system. The passing of the legislation that allowed it to exist is seen as one of the earliest revolutionary documents in South Africa. The bank was famous for its avoidance of having shareholders and focused on storing all profits as reserves, having distributed 10% of annual net profits to 150 charitable and educational institutions from 1983. Over 39 years, it donated R300,475 to these causes, which in those days was an extraordinary amount of money.
The bank officially opened its doors on 25 June 1831 in a double-storeyed structure on St George’s Street, Cape Town. Within the first five days, R5,000 was deposited by new clients. In July of the same year, the bank was able to grant its first loan of 15,000 rixdollars (the equivalent of about R1,800 in those days), which the client used to build their first house.
By 1890, the bank had 27 branches throughout the Cape – one of the largest institutional footprints at the time. Due to its having been one of the oldest institutions in the Cape, it is intertwined with the history of the area and was often referred to affectionately as The Grand Old Lady of St George’s Street.
An old Cape of Good Hope Bank ten pound note (Numis Bids)
The Board of Executors
The Board of Executors was founded through an Act of Parliament as a trust company on 22 August 1838. The 50 founding shareholders were, for the most part, lawyers and winemakers who came together to fund the establishment of the board with a pledge of £200 each for a total of £10,000. This made the Board of Executors the first trust company in the world. The idea of a trust company is interesting in that it stems from the unlikely roots of being associated with Marcus Aurelius and the Knights Templar. The Roman Emperor and, later, the Knights Templar saw the benefit in leaving the administration of estates and wealth items to other parties while many of the able-bodied individuals were sent off to war, meaning that should something happen to them, their families were taken care of.
In 1856, the Board of Executors purchased a two-storey structure on the corner of Wale and Adderley Streets. This structure had been built over the site where one of the earlier Dutch East India Company hospitals once stood. The Board began construction of a building on the same site in 1893, and by 1896 it was a revolutionary structure having both gas-powered lighting and the first electrically operated elevators in Cape Town. It is uncertain whether the earlier building was demolished to construct a new building, or if major upgrades were made to the original construction. During this time, the Board was also the proud owner of one of the earliest copying machines, which it had bought for the then extravagant sum of £8 (a measure of paper for the machine was an extra cost of £7). In 1905, the Board acquired its first typewriter and five years later, with the purchase of a second typewriter, the first female employee was hired.
Plaque commemorating the hospital of the Netherlands East India Company (The Heritage Portal)
In 1928, the Board purchased two lots on Wale Street, where it began construction on the iconic Wale Street Building that living memory might associate with BoE. The building, known as Temple Chambers, was seven stories tall and was perhaps most famous for the sculpture known as Widow Twankey, who featured in the Board’s logo, which stood on the building’s corner balcony.
Temple Chambers (Roger Fisher)
The Board was a household name in the Cape before its gradual spread across the country through it making the move from a trust company to a national investment house, which saw the Board’s expansion to Johannesburg and Natal by 1978. This came about after nearly 140 years of operating solely out of Cape Town. That same year, BoE decided to branch out into the money market, which expanded its books and status exponentially.
In 1987 the Board of Executors changed its name to BoE and listed on what was then called the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, now the JSE, for the first time. This was followed by the next headline event of 1998, when BoE amalgamated its banking interests into the entity known as BoE Bank Ltd. This included NBS Bank, BoE Bank, BoE Investment Bank and BoE Private Bank. This led to the sale of the famous Wale Street building for the construction of what would be the new head office building at the V&A Waterfront, which we still occupy today as the Clock Tower Campus.
Clock Tower Campus (The Heritage Portal)
Interestingly, this new construction led to the uncovering of an incredibly important heritage resource: the Chavonnes Battery, which had been lost to the world deep underground for nearly 150 years and no doubt would have remained uncovered had BoE not built there.
Chavonnes Battery (The Heritage Portal)
The famous Widow Twankey sculpture could not be moved to the new Waterfront building due to its unfortunate degradation over the years, so a replica of the original was made and still stands outside the entrance today.
In 2002, Nedcor’s proposal to merge with BoE was accepted (to the value of R7.5 billion) and the conversion of BoE infrastructure began. By 2003, the new Nedcor Group had been created through the combination of Nedcor, NIB, BoE, and the Cape of Good Hope Bank.
The Kimberley Permanent Mutual Building and Investment Society
Building societies came into being near the end of the 18th Century in England due to the growth and expansion in population density caused in the cities by the Industrial Revolution. These early societies were known as ‘building clubs’ and members would join together to build houses, and ownership of a specific structure would be assigned by a lottery. These were known as Terminating Building Societies, as upon completion of this crowd-funded construction the ‘building club’ would be disbanded and another created for the next building.
Permanent Building societies came about to provide financing for continued developments by owners instead of a once-off construction venture. With Permanent Building societies, as with the Terminating societies, only shareholders or funders could be borrowers, but shareholders or funders need not be borrowers.
The Kimberley Permanent Mutual Building and Investment Society was founded on the evening of 16 November 1883. While it was not South Africa’s first building society (the Natal Building Society and the Cape of Good Hope Land Building and Investment Society both hold that status), it was Kimberley’s first Permanent Building society, with two Terminating societies having operated before it. By the end of its second month, the company had 668 shares in issue and 77 borrowers.
Seven years later, in 1889, the Society had already expanded its footprint wide and opened its first branch in Johannesburg. By 1892, it underwent a name change and became known as the South African Permanent Building Society, which later became known as Perm by popular usage.
Never ceasing in its expansion and innovation, Perm was the very first building society in South Africa to hire a female teller, in 1920. This was the same year it reported its R1 million in asset value.
By 1976, Perm had left Kimberley and had taken up headquarters in Johannesburg at 64 Eloff Street. The year 1988 saw Nedbank Limited merge with the Perm to form NedPerm Bank Limited, which offered high-tier personal banking. This was followed swiftly by the amalgamation of Nedbank, Perm and Nedfin into Nedcor in 1992. Three years later, Perm announced a split of its operations into two separate entities – Permanent Bank and People’s Bank. In 2001, Permanent Bank and Old Mutual Bank announced a merger that planned to focus on wealth management and financial planning. In 2002, this culminated in a joint venture rather than a full merger. By 2005, all Perm entities were part of Nedbank Group.
Photographs of the Perm Building at 64 Eloff Street (The Heritage Portal)
The next article in this series will look at some of the other entities make up the Nedbank Historical Collective, as well as deeper insights into the Heritage and Archival Repository at Nedbank.
About the author: Alex is the Heritage & Archive Repository Manager at Nedbank.
- Assorted Nedbank Archival Documents
- Baïkoff, J. 1988. 1838 – 1988: The First 150 years of The Board of Executors. Gwynne Plaka Press: South Africa.
- Booyens, B. 1982. Die Stellenbosse Distriksbank, 1882 -1982. Nasionale Boekdrukkery: South Africa.
- Robertson, M. 1983. Building for Permanence: The story of a building society in the lives of South Africans. C. Struik Publishers: South Africa.
- van der Merwe, P. 2015. Artefacts. Large images (artefacts.co.za)