In 1904, a young entrepreneur with a reputation for helping small merchants and immigrant farmers named Amadeo Giannini founded the Bank of Italy in a converted San Francisco saloon. His goal was to make financial services available to everyone — an innovative concept at the time. Two years later, in the chaotic days after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, Giannini set up a makeshift bank on a desk on the San Francisco docks. Instead of collateral, he gave residents loans to rebuild, secured with only a handshake.
Giannini was never one to make a big deal about his role in helping the city and its residents rebuild, but his legend and his business grew. In 1928, he consolidated his bank into what would become Bank of America. Two years later, the organization acquired the Occidental Life Insurance Company through the newly created holding company, Transamerica Corporation. Less than two decades later in 1946, Giannini’s bank would become the largest private bank in the world.