Amadeo Giannini: Banker of the Little Fellows

On this day, May 6 in the year 1870, the founder of the giant Bank of America was born in San Jose, California. His name is Amadeo Peter Giannini whose many pioneering efforts led to many banking innovations.

Amadeo Giannini
Amadeo Giannini (Photo Credit: California Museum)

Giannini’s parents were immigrants from Italy. At a very young age, his father was fatally shot by a disgruntled employee of the family’s farm. He quit school at age 13 and went to work at the produce brokerage of his step-father. He got married in 1892. After working for eighteen years, he was financially secure and retired. In 1902, his father-in-law died and Giannini had to take the management of his estate which includes interest in a small bank in San Francisco. From then on, he became a banker for the rest of his life.

Because of his innovative ideas, he became at odds with the other directors. In 1904, he opened the Bank of Italy and introduced unorthodox practices such as full service banking and catering to the banking needs of the “little fellows”. At that time most banks would lend only to the very rich residents but Giannini went out all the way to solicit deposits and to make loans from farmers, small merchants, and laborers. His bank grew and prospered, helping many people recover from the great earthquake of 1906 that reduced San Francisco to rubble.

The disaster spurred Giannini to establish branches all over California, not only as a means of growing the bank but as a sort of insurance. In 1928, he merged his bank with the Bank of America in Los Angeles with Bank of America as the name of the new entity. By the 1930s, Bank of America became one of the largest banks in the United States.

Giannini died in 1949 at the age of 79. Surprising, he only left a small fortune of around $500,000 but he did it by choice. For to him, great wealth would only ruin his capacity to serve the people. Today, he is considered as the “father of consumer banking”.


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