I read about this pioneering banker in Radicals & Visionaries: Entrepreneurs Who Revolutionized the 20th Century by Thaddeus Wawro and was in awe.
Known as the “Little Fellow’s Banker,” Amadeo Peter “A.P.” Giannini marked his spot in history by offering banking services to every day working people. At that time, banks only served the wealthy and business owners. Thus, his attitude of servitude made him a very wealthy man.
In 1904 Giannini raised $150,000 from friends and family to become the first full-service bank by offering savings and commercial checking accounts as well as small loans. Essentially, he created equal opportunity banking for all. “He routinely lent money to farmers, merchants and laborers, most of whom were immigrants. He also encouraged recent immigrants to move their small savings from their mattresses to the bank.” (p. 150) Opening branches in different locations was another accomplishment.
When Giannini retired in 1945, Bank of America was the largest bank in the United States. When he died in 1949, his estate was valued at $500,000 because he did not believe in great wealth.
We are in 2010 and Bank of America still holds its place as the largest bank in the United States. However, that’s where the similarities end.
What started as a financial institution with the needs of the “little fellow” in mind has become the nemesis of little people in these challenging economic times. I really wonder: What would Giannini think if he were here today?
Another irony is Giannini’s views on wealth. He was very humble in the accumulation and distribution of wealth. The executives of Bank of America today are not looking so good with their priorities. Clearly, serving the “little fellow” is not their priority; their own interests are. What would Giannini say if he witnessed the extreme level of greed and lack of concern for customers?
While there are many other ironies that can be listed, I just wanted to share how the values of Bank of America has changed over the years. Amadeo Giannini created the institution with the needs of every day, common folk in mind. These same needs are being disregarded by executives today.
Despite all that’s happening, I still often wonder: What would Amadeo Peter” A.P.” Giannini think?
To read more about other entrepreneurs that changed the 20th century, check out Radicals & Visionaries by Thaddeus Wawro.