Joseph Safra became the world’s richest banker by transforming a Brazilian lender into a global multibillion-dollar empire.

Now, after a long illness and death at 82, it falls to the next Safra generation.

What’s at stake is a conglomerate which comprises Banco Safra SA, Safra National Bank of New York and Switzerland’s J Safra Sarasin -- firms with about $85 billion in banking assets. There’s also a $2.3 billion real estate portfolio, that includes the Gherkin in London and 660 Madison Avenue in New York, a stake in banana company Chiquita Brands International and a 130-room mansion in Sao Paulo.

Together, his four children and widow stand to inherit a fortune estimated at around $17.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The succession comes as the global pandemic has roiled markets and accelerated shifts that are upending traditional businesses, such as banking and real estate. Brazil has been particularly hard hit, with the world’s second-highest number of Covid deaths. The Safras -- famous for their cautious approach to business -- also have to contend with competition from upstart firms and foreign banks over wealthy clients.

“Safra’s importance in the financial system is smaller today then it once was. Other banks outgrew it,” said Rafael Schiozer, a professor of Finance at Fundacao Getulio Vargas. “The family now faces challenges both in defining a strategy for its businesses and who will control them.

Safra “leaves a legacy that will be followed by many generations,” according to a statement from Banco Safra on Thursday that said he died of natural causes. The bank didn’t respond to a message seeking further comment.

The Safra dynasty traces its origins to the Ottoman Empire, when it financed camel-caravan traders, and has endured global and family crises.

Joseph Safra was born in 1938, in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Jewish banking clan with roots in Aleppo, Syria. His father, Jacob, moved the family to Brazil after World War II and Banco Safra was established in 1957. He and his brother Moise ran the Brazilian business, after their elder brother, Edmond, had broken off years before to build his own banks in Europe and New York.

Edmond, who later sold the business to HSBC Holdings Plc, died in 1999 as a victim of arson in Monaco.

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