Swiss Bank Corporation traces its history to 1854. In that year, six private banking firms in Basel, Switzerland, pooled their resources to form the Bankverein, a consortium that acted as an underwriting syndicate for its member banks. Among the original member banks were Bischoff zu St Alban, Ehinger & Cie., J. Merian-Forcart, Passavant & Cie., J. Riggenbach and von Speyr & Cie. The establishment of joint-stock banks in Switzerland such as Swiss Bank's earliest predecessors (often structured as a Swiss Verein) was driven by the industrialization of the country and the construction of railroads in the mid-19th century.
The Basler Bankverein was formally organized in 1872 in Basel, replacing the original Bankverein consortium. Basler Bankverein was founded with an initial commitment of 30 million CHF, of which 6 million of initial share capital was paid in. Among the Bankverein's early backers was the Bank in Winterthur, one of the early predecessors of the Union Bank of Switzerland. The bank experienced initial growing pains after heavy losses in Germany caused the bank to suspend its dividend in favor of a loss reserve. By 1879, Basler Bankverein has accumulated enough capital to resume dividends, initially at an 8% annual rate and then increasing to 10% in 1880.
Basler Bankverein later combined with Zürcher Bankverein in 1895 to become the Basler & Zürcher Bankverein. The next year, Basler Depositenbank and Schweizerische Unionbank were acquired. After the take-over of the Basler Depositenbank, the bank changes its name to Schweizerischer Bankverein (Swiss Bank). The English name of the bank was changed to Swiss Bank Corporation in 1917
The St. Gallen, Switzerland, offices of Swiss Bank Corporation c.1920
SBC continued to grow in the early decades of the 20th century, acquiring weaker rivals. In 1906, SBC purchased Banque d'Espine, Fatio & Cie, establishing a branch in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first time. Two years later, in 1908, the bank acquired Fratelli Pasquali, a bank in Chiasso, Switzerland, its first representation in the Italian-speaking portion of the country. This was followed by the 1909 acquisition of Bank für Appenzell (est. 1866) and the 1912 acquisition of Banque d'Escompte et de Dépots.
The onset of World War I put a hold on much of the bank's development. Although SBC survived the war intact, it suffered the loss of its investments in a number of large industrial companies. Nevertheless, the bank surpassed 1 billion CHF for the first time at the end of 1918 and grew to 2,000 employees by 1920. In 1918, SBC purchased Métaux Précieux SA Métalor to refine precious metals and produce bank ingots. the company would be established as a separate subsidiary in 1936 and spun-off in 1998. The impact of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression would be severe, particularly as the Swiss franc suffered major devaluation in 1936. The bank would see its assets fall from a 1929 peak of 1.6 billion CHF to its 1918 levels of 1 billion CHF by 1936.
In 1937 , SBC adopted its three keys logo symbolizing confidence, security and discretion. The logo was designed by a Swiss artist and illustrator, Warja Honegger-Lavater.