US banker, known for his promotion of liberal loan policies. In 1930 he merged the Bank of Italy with other banks to establish the Bank of America National Trust and Savings Association, which survived the Depression to become by 1934 one of the world's largest commercial banks. During the Depression he was sometimes criticized for his bank's excessive holdings of farm mortgages, and was accused of encouraging the exploitation of migrant farm workers. By the time of his death, his Bank of America was the largest bank in the USA and the largest privately held bank in the world.
He was born in San Jose, California, the son of Italian immigrants. From 1883 to 1901 he worked in his stepfather's produce business, becoming a partner in 1889, and retiring at the age of 31. His father-in-law died intestate (1902) and as manager of the estate he started the Bank of Italy (1904), primarily as a lender to small, underserved businesses. The bank soon began to expand to other cities in California and by 1918 he had developed the first statewide branch-banking system in the USA. He retired as president of the Bank of Italy in 1924 but remained active in its parent holding company, Transamerica Corporation. In 1927 he donated $1.5 million to the University of California to establish the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. After his death much of his fortune went to a foundation for medical research.