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The role of finance in the development of trade draws increasing attention from economists and economic historians. Yet empirical studies, especially from an historical perspective, continue to be scarce. This study analyses the role of German and British foreign banks in the internationalisation of trade during the first globalisation. It creates a novel data set on the bilateral trade of Germany and Great Britain with the rest of the world and the number and geographical distribution of German and British foreign banks between 1881 and 1913. Using an augmented gravity model of trade, the article shows that banks had a significant positive impact on exports and imports and that this effect was even more pronounced in case of German banks and trade. Moreover, the effect of German banks on trade is the highest in the years closer to bank entry, supporting the idea of German banks being initiators of trade. In contrast, the effect of British banks seems constant over time.