How Bank of America Became a Successful Banking and Wealth Management Juggernaut With $2.2 Trillion in Assets
Learn about the history of the Bank of America and its rise from humble beginnings as the Bank of Italy to the second biggest bank in the U.S. Make an informed choice when considering whether or not to trust Bank of America with your financial needs.
It's hard to believe there was a time when banks wouldn't lend money to normal consumers—a time when a 'personal loan' was an alien concept to the banking industry.
I know better than most how personal loans can change lives.
For the past 20+ years, we have provided consumers with information and resources to help them take charge of their finances.
Everyone has a unique situation.
For me, it was during college, living paycheck to paycheck, and having one auto repair bill send me into a financial tailspin.
The stories are out there, and every day, consumers are getting more and more educated about navigating the financial industry.
Before 1904, when the original bank we know today as Bank of America was formed, the power of personal loans was completely untapped in our society.
Banks would only lend money to commercial and business borrowers or to super-wealthy individuals.
Bank of America made banking and lending for the people—revolutionizing an entire industry by being the first to open its doors and its coffers to the everyday man.
Lending money to average citizens was unheard of at the turn of the 20th century.
But Bank of America turned that logic on its head by opening branches to serve the banking and borrowing needs of normal, everyday people.
Just over 40 years later, Bank of America was the largest bank in the world.
Today, Bank of America is a banking and wealth management juggernaut, with $2.2 trillion in assets.
The huge success of Bank of America today would never have happened had it not been for its innovative vision of meeting the banking and borrowing needs of all Americans.
As with most consumer decisions, the story behind a product or service provider is likely to affect our perception of the brand, and, ultimately, our decision to buy from or avail of their services.
And banking is no different.
There are certain factors we take into account when deciding which bank is right for us.
With this in mind, we did a bit of research to give you both a bird's eye view and an in-depth look into how Bank of America became a trailblazer for the entire banking industry, and how the company grew into what it is today.
I'm completely inspired by the history of Bank of America.
Its story confirms my belief in the transformative power of personal loans.
And once you get to know its amazing story, I think you'll be inspired as well.
Revolutionary and community spirit is part of Bank of America's heritage
Over a century before the company that would become Bank of America started in 1904, banks that would eventually become part of it were playing important roles.
America's independence created the freedom to establish American banks. Bank of America's revolutionary spirit started way back in 1784.
After achieving its independence from Britain in 1783, America finally had the freedom to create its own banking system.
In Boston, a small group of leaders exercised that newfound freedom and opened the Massachusetts Bank in 1784.
Previously, people in Boston had to do their banking through wealthy British merchants operating with the Bank of England.
An independent bank for an independent country. The kind of revolutionary spirit behind the Boston Tea Party also inspired the city's leaders to establish a bank.
America was now politically independent of Britain, and the Bank of Massachusetts allowed Americans to achieve financial independence as well.
Nantucket was saved by a bank. Another bank that would someday become part of the Bank of America was the Nantucket Pacific Bank which started in 1804.
Even though Nantucket was just a small island off Massachusetts, its bank thrived along with the economy, which was fueled by the whaling industry.
A whale of a fire. In 1846, a fire raged through the main street of Nantucket, literally fueled by barrels of flammable whale oil.
The fire stopped spreading when it hit the fireproof brick and slate building of the Nantucket Pacific Bank, and the rest of the city was saved.
If that wasn't enough, the bank also subsequently financed much of the city's rebuilding.
Chicago was built and rebuilt by a Bank of America heritage bank. The Merchant Savings and Loan Company was yet another early American bank that would one day become part of Bank of America.
It was started in 1857 when Chicago was booming as a commercial and transportation powerhouse.
The bank was known as a trusted and reliable institution and supported the expansion of fast-growing Chicago into a major center for industry in the West.
In 1871 the Great Fire burned down most of the city, including the Merchant Savings and Loan Company's building.
Fortunately, the bank president and two clerks were able to rescue $4 million from the vault before it burned down by hiding it in their clothes and taking it to his house.
A legacy of reliability for the customer. The bank president then proceeded to operate the bank from his basement.
The community's confidence was rewarded when the Merchant Savings and Loan Company honored all lost accounts in full (other banks only compensated 25%).
The only verification it looked for was the word of its customers.
The bank then went on to play a huge role in Chicago's Great Rebuilding, resulting in the iconic architecture and skyline of Chicago today.
Bank of America's predecessor was created by someone with a non-traditional background
My favorite stories from Bank of America's history are about the founding of the company in 1904 by Amodeo Peter (A.P.) Giannini in San Francisco.
I have to say, after learning his story, A.P. Giannini will always be one of my personal heroes.
Giannini was an Italian immigrant who had great success early in his career.
He married into wealth and inherited the directorship of a small bank at the age of 31.
He was not a banker.
But when he was unable to convince the bank's board of directors that poor, hardworking immigrants were a good risk for lending, he quit and started his own bank.
Bank of America was actually started by Giannini as 'Bank of Italy', a bank "for people who had never used one."
Lending money to average, everyday people was completely unheard of in the early 1900s.
You had to have money to get money. Banks back then only loaned money to the rich or to companies and businesses.
So A.P. Giannini created what became the most controversial bank in the United States.
Here's why this guy is my hero. He created his own rules and invented an entirely new kind of banking in the face of firm resistance from the financial establishment.
Lending money to hardworking citizens offended what Giannini called "Big Interests."
He didn't care.
A pioneer of neighborhood bank branches. His vision included creating the first-ever network of localized branches so ordinary people wouldn't have to walk too far to do their banking.
He truly laughed all the way to the bank. His innovative ideas proved wildly successful and hugely profitable.
By 1910 Bank of Italy had assets of $6.5 million, and by 1920, it had grown to $157 million.
In 1927 Giannini changed the company's name to Bank of America, and by 1929 its assets surpassed the $1 billion mark.
Narrowly avoided a takeover. Bank of America was almost taken over by the financial pressures of the Great Depression.
Giannini saved the company he founded by driving all over California and holding town-hall-style meetings to personally assure and convince Bank of America stockholders to remain steadfast and not to sell.
Funded the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1935, the Golden Gate Bridge was opened in San Francisco.
The construction of the national landmark was funded by the city's very own Bank of America.
By 1936, Bank of America was the fourth-largest bank in America with assets totaling $2.1 billion.
Continued to innovate with products for the people. Bank of Americadeveloped a product called Timeplan loans where people could pay in installments.
Timeplan loans included installment loans for real estate, car loans, and personal credit loans ranging $50–$1,000.
Home appliance financing and loans for home improvements were other industry firsts introduced by Bank of America.
Americans headed west. Bank of America thrived during World War II and continued to do so after the war, as many Americans moved to California.
By 1945, Bank of America's assets surpassed $5 billion.
The San Francisco bank created by an Italian immigrant "for people who had never used one" finally had become the largest bank in the United States.
Revolutionizing the banking industry through technology
The innovating influence of Bank of America in the banking industry as a whole continued into the mid-20th century.
First to introduce computers to banking. It's difficult today to imagine running a bank without the use of computers.
In 1961, Bank of America was the first bank to fully computerize its systems.
You know those numbers along the bottom of every check?
Bank of America did that first.
The company's new electronic systems soon caught on across the whole banking industry.
A leader in the credit card industry. In 1958, Bank of America introduced its own credit card.
BankAmericard was the first successful all-purpose credit card in the United States (other cards were directly linked to retailers or gas stations).
You might have heard of its new name. In 1977 the BankAmericard changed its name—to "Visa."
Innovating through ATMs. In 1969, Bank of America introduced automated teller machines to its customers—allowing them to make transactions any time of the day.
Once again, the company was on the leading edge of a banking technology we can hardly imagine living without today.
Keeping with Giannini's tradition
A.P. Giannini would have been proud to see how Bank of America continued his tradition of making loans available to average Americans.
Credit in the palm of your hand. Making the modern credit card available to the masses changed the world as we know it.
Today there are so many good credit cards available it's hard to grasp how innovative it was to send someone a pre-approved credit card in the mail.
Supporting education through student loans. To me, student loans are some of the best examples of how credit can completely change a person's life.
Bank of America began offering student loans to everyday Americans in the 1960's—changing the lives of countless individuals who were empowered by the opportunity to receive higher education.
Lending to people when no one else would. In the spirit of its founder, the bank Giannini founded continued to offer credit to folks who couldn't get it elsewhere.
In the 1970's the company established a $100 million lending fund for housing in low-income neighborhoods.
Just like back in 1904, Bank of America continued to provide life-changing loans to lower-income Americans.
Bank of America achieved its goal of becoming a "department store of finance" where the greatest number of financial products were made available to the widest possible market.
Bank of America in the 1990s and 2000s
Trying to keep pace with its own growth
Bank of America continued to grow through countless mergers and acquisitions with other banks and financial companies.
NationsBank merger was massive. In 1998, Bank of America merged with NationsBank to create a coast-to-coast bank with assets of $572 billion.
The company was now serving 30 million families in the United States and had operations in 38 different countries.
New headquarters in North Carolina. The merger with NationsBank also involved Bank of America moving its headquarters to Charlotte, North Carolina, where it is still located to this day.
Growing pains slowed things down for a while. The merger with NationsBank was huge, and it proved rather difficult to integrate the two companies' systems.
In the early 2000s, Bank of America posted lower growth, income, and revenues than expected.
Ten thousand jobs were cut, and people began to wonder if Bank of America had bitten off more than it could chew with this merger.
Refocus on customer service. The leadership of the company realized growth through mergers was much different than "organic" growth (like increasing customers and revenue).
Bank of America made the conscious decision to put more of its energy into improving customer service rather than looking for new banks to buy.
The strategy was to deepen relationships with customers and enhance the quality of the service provided to Bank of America clients.
It worked, and soon Bank of America climbed back to become the third-largest bank in the United States and the country's thirteenth-largest corporation.
Challenges and growth through the Great Recession
Then 2007 happened. By 2007, Bank of America was one of the biggest providers of mortgages in the United States.
Like many other financial institutions, Bank of America had long been providing sub-prime mortgage loans to people who couldn't afford them.
Then the housing bubble burst and the economy sank into recession.
Eventually, Bank of America would pay almost $17 billion (the largest settlement in U.S. history) in fines and repayments for its role in the housing bubble meltdown.
What didn't kill it made it stronger. Unlike what had befallen some other financial institutions, the Great Recession did not bankrupt Bank of America.
In fact, the economic collapse gave Bank of America an opportunity to "rescue" a company and make it a key partner.
In 2008, Bank of America bought the massive (yet struggling) investment company, Merrill Lynch, for $50 billion in company stock.
With that acquisition, Bank of America became the largest financial services company in the entire world.
Bank of America Today
A banking and wealth management juggernaut
Bank of America certainly has come a long way from its humble roots lending to low- income immigrants as the Bank of Italy.
With $2.2 trillion in assets, Bank of America is now the second-biggest bank in the United States.
Shares in Bank of America Corporation are going today for more than $32 each.
The company's $92.2 billion in annual revenue places it fifth on Forbes' list of America's top companies.
Over 10% of all deposits. Bank of America holds 10.73% of all bank deposits in the United States.
Giannini would be proud. The founder's vision of taking banking to the people is being fulfilled with 46 million consumer and small business accounts, 15,900 ATMs, and 4,600 branches.
Buying Merrill Lynch really paid off. With its wise acquisition of Merrill Lynch, it is now the world's biggest wealth management corporation and a major force in the investment banking sector.
A one-stop shop for all banking, borrowing, and financial services
Bank of America continues to fulfill its goal of offering the most financial products and services to the widest number of people.
Choose between several savings and checking account options. There are two personal checking accounts offered by Bank of America.
The Bank of America Core Checking account is a straightforward account that's perfect for people who need checks direct deposited.
It has a monthly fee of $12 but it's waived if you maintain a balance of $1,500 or if you have a direct deposit of $250 or more.
The Bank of America Interest Checking account is more for people with high balances across multiple banking and investment accounts with the bank.
It has a $25 monthly fee, but it's waived if you carry an average balance of $10,000 or more across all BofA accounts.
Earn some interest. Bank of America Interest Checking earns interest, but the APY rate is only 0.01%.
A Bank of America Savings account provides an APY of 0.03%.
To put it into perspective, if you had a balance of $10,000 it would generate $100 over a year in an Interest Checking Account and $300 with a Savings Account.
A Bank of America debit card is issued to all checking clients but can't be used to access funds in a savings account.
A rewarding savings account. Bank of America's Rewards Savings account also lets you earn cash back for shopping through the BankAmeriDeals program.
You choose and activate deals on the Bank of America mobile or online banking platforms.
When you purchase the featured deals, you get 15% cash back, which is deposited right into your Rewards Savings account.
Keep the change! Every time you buy something using your debit card, Bank of America will round the price up to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference into your savings account.
The $8 monthly fee for the Rewards Savings account is waived if you have a linked checking account or carry a minimum daily balance of $500.
Credit cards from the inventors of the Visa
The company that invented the Visa card doesn't disappoint when it comes to providing multiple credit card options.
Earn cash rewards for using your Bank of America credit cards. The Bank of America Cash Rewards card (also known as the BankAmericard Cash card) has no annual fee.
You earn 1% cash back on all purchases except grocery stores, where you earn 2%, and 3% on gas (for the first $2,500 in spending in these bonus categories).
When you sign up for the BankAmericard Cash card, you get 0% APR for the first year, then the APR is 14.24–24.24%.
As soon as you've made $500 in purchases in the first 90 days after opening the account, you get a $150 cash rewards bonus.
Upgrade to Premium for more points. Bank of America's Premium Rewards card also lets you earn cash back but comes with a $95 annual fee.
You can earn unlimited points at a rate of 1.5 points per dollar, and 2 points per dollar for spending on dining or travel.
Score a big points bonus. The sign-up bonus is a whopping 50,000 points, worth $500.
To qualify, you need to make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
There's no intro APR offer with this one, and a standard APR of 17.24–24.24% is charged on any unpaid balance after your first billing cycle.
Travel rewards cards let you earn and redeem for travel. The Bank of America Travel Rewards card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.
You earn unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, and the points never expire.
Book travel expenses any way you want, and they can be covered with the points you've earned.
You also get a 20,000 online bonus worth $200 for signing up if you make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
Choose your card based on your preferences. Although Bank of America doesn't offer as many credit card options as some of its competitors, there are definitely some solid choices available for all priorities.
Bank of America still provides personal loans, but only secured
My hero, A.P. Giannini, would probably be disappointed to learn Bank of America no longer provides unsecured personal loans to everyday Americans.
Fortunately, there are still reputable companies like CreditLoan.com, who see the importance of offering unsecured personal loans available at great rates for ordinary people.
Auto loans put you in the driver's seat. Bank of America does continue to offer secured loans including car loans.
60-month new car loan APRs are as low as 2.99% and used car loans start at 3.29%.
Loans for purchasing, refinancing, or borrowing from your home. Bank of America also provides secured loans in the forms of mortgages, home refinancing, and home equity loans.
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management helps you grow your money
It sure is handy for Bank of America to have an in-house investment arm in the form of Merrill Lynch.
Access all forms of financial products. Investment opportunities include retirement planning, IRAs and 401(k) Rollovers, College Savings Plans, and other investment choices like stocks and mutual funds.
Bank of America's digital services are leading-edge
Bank of America was the first bank to computerize its entire operations, so it's no surprise it continues to lead the way when it comes to digital banking options like mobile banking and online banking.
The bank's secure online portal lets customers view account balances, statements, and activity as well as transfer funds between accounts.
Bank of America's mobile banking app gets high ratings from users. In addition to managing your account activity, it also lets you redeem cash back deals and cash checks using your phone's camera.
You can also link your Bank of America accounts to Apple Pay, Zelle, and other digital payment formats through the app's digital wallet.
High-value clients get Preferred Rewards
As Bank of America customers' wealth and account balances increase, so do their benefits.
The Preferred Rewards program's benefits set Bank of America's credit cards above other banks' credit card rewards programs.
Gold tier customers with a minimum balance of $20,000 across all Bank of America accounts and portfolios get a 5% boost in their Rewards Savings interest rate.
The gold customers also get a 25% bonus on rewards points, waived account and investment fees, and a 0.25% interest rate discount on auto loans.
For Platinum customers (with balances of $50,000) the interest rate boost is 10% and the rewards points are increased by 50%.
The highest tier is Platinum Honors, where customers with balances of $100,000 and up get 75% bonus reward points and a 20% increase in the Rewards Savings interest rate.
Bank of America became a $2.2 trillion banking and wealth management juggernaut by focusing on the needs of everyday Americans
The story of A.P. Giannini and his founding of the Bank of America as the Bank of Italy back in 1904 is one that truly fascinates me.
He shook the entire American financial establishment with one idea—lend money to everyday, ordinary people.
The bank "for people who had never used one" turned out to be a $2.2 trillion-dollar idea.
I think the only disappointment A.P. Giannini would have is to know that Bank of America doesn't provide unsecured personal loans to everyday Americans anymore.
Most consumer banks have actually made the same decision in the years following the Great Recession.
Luckily for the average American, there are still people like me and my team at CreditLoan.com who are committed to making sure everyday Americans are still able to access funds when they need them.
The torch has been passed, and we will continue the tradition of changing lives through the power of personal loans.
Do you have any experiences using Bank of America?
Any great tips (or stories) to share with the rest of us?
Let us know in the comments below!