300-year-old Liverpool family business that opposed the slave trade considers £2bn merger

Sunday Times is reporting that Rathbone Brothers, based at the Port of Liverpool Building and manages assets of £36bn, is in merger talks with rival Smith & Williamson. Tony McDonough reports

Rathbones is based at the Port of Liverpool Building. Picture by Tony McDonough


Private wealth management firm Rathbone Brothers began life as a family timber merchant business in Liverpool almost 300 years ago – and is now set for a £2bn merger.

The Sunday Times is reporting that Rathbones, which is based at the Port of Liverpool Building, is in merger talks with rival Smith & Williamson (S&W).

Wealth managers

Rathbones, which also has a major base in London, manages more than £36bn for its clients who comprise wealthy individuals and charities.

The smaller S&W, which manages around £19bn of funds, is mostly owned by its employees and is valued at between £500m and £600m.

Shares in the stock market-listed Rathbones have risen by 40% this year and at close of business on Friday stood at £27.70 – giving the business a market value of £1.4bn.

The combined business would have a headcount of more than 3,000 people.

Slavery opposition

Rathbones made a name for itself in Liverpool in the 18th century for its opposition to the slave trade. This was a remarkable stance given the astonishing amount of money being made by slave traders in the city at the time.

At the height of the slave trade and up to its abolition in 1807 the trade saw up to 130 ships a year leaving Liverpool for Africa.

More than 3m people were transported across the Atlantic from Africa until the slave trade was abolished in 1807


Around half of the 3m slaves transported across the Atlantic from Africa travelled on Liverpool vessels. Slavery itself was made illegal by Britain in 1834.

The Rathbones were a Quaker family and, despite the culture of the age, viewed the trade in human beings as morally abhorrent.

Committee founder

William Rathbone IV, born in 1757, was the most prominent member of the family to publicly denounce the slave trade and was a founder member of the Liverpool Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

To this day Rathbones continues to speak out against modern slavery and human trafficking and in 2014 lobbied the Government calling for greater transparency in global supply chains.

The company also has a long history of philanthropy, both in Liverpool and across the UK, supporting sporting, health and education programmes for young people.

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