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The directors of Standard Chartered commissioned me in February 2011 to write a history of the Group, from its origins in the middle of the 19th century to the present day. They funded an extensive research programme, involving more than 170 interviews with employees past and present, and made available all the archived records of the Group including its Board papers up to 2014. The resulting book, Crossing Continents: A History of Standard Chartered Bank (915 pp), was completed in the summer of 2016 and prepared for publication by Penguin Allen Lane.
The Group requested a postponement of publication in 2016, but had no objection to the private printing of twenty copies for me pending the book’s eventual release. The front cover of the dust jacket (right) carries a photograph taken at the end of the 1890s. It shows four merchant vessels, berthed in Calcutta’s Hooghly River. The busy riverside scene around them catches a flavour of the trading links that underpinned the British Empire everywhere across Africa and Asia – and that depended crucially, for well over a century starting in the 1850s, on the trade-financing capital and expertise of the City of London’s overseas banks.
Two of the foremost names among these overseas banks were the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China on the one hand and the Standard Bank of South Africa on the other, founded respectively in 1853 and 1862. Crossing Continents traces their separate histories from the glory days of the pre-1914 global era through the setbacks and world wars of the twentieth century.
The two banks were merged together in 1969 to form Standard Chartered group, a business that its architects believed at the outset might logically build upon the commercial legacy of its forebears. Crossing Continents tells how this original vision almost came to grief over the next twenty years, and how it was then revived and substantially realised in some powerful and surprising ways. The modern story, stretched across almost half a century, provides an unusual slant on the evolution of international finance in recent times.
The Group is now planning to authorise publication of the book in the first half of 2021.