Biography of a Bank by Marquis James and Bessie R. James


“No man actually owns a fortune; it owns him.”


Most of the newcomers were poor, as about every man around the Columbus board table had been in his young days. Judging by the past, most of these newcomers would get on and a certain number would be among the leaders of the next generation. Giannini saw these people as potential customers of the bank and now was the moment to win their friendship by offering small loans to help them get started. In the long run the bank would prosper. 


“The bank is the most jealously regarded and the least liked instrument of business in this country,” said Mr. Wilson. The banks of this country are remote from the people and the people regard them as not belonging to them but as belonging to some power hostile to them . . . . If a system of branch banks very simply and inexpensively managed . . . could be established which would put the resources of the rich banks of the country at the disposal of whole countrysides to whose merchants and farmers only a restricted and local credit is now open, the attitude of plain men everywhere towards the banks and banking would be changed utterly within less than a generation. 


The local bank is built up by local resources. Only the local resources for the most part can be called upon for local advantages. Every community is as poor as its own resources. You cannot get the riches of the country in order to make it rich until it gets rich enough to establish a bank. It cannot get credit in the money centers until there accumulates enough capital to make it practically independent of that credit. You have set this country a task of developing in the most difficult and most improbable way. Do you suppose the country is not going to become aware of that? It is aware of it.


Should he decide to go into branch banking, and should that mean competition with the giants of the banking world—why, Giannini would compete, that was all. The prospect terrified him no more than had the San Fransisco fire or the Panic of 1907.


Mr. Wilson was right when he said that the bigger banks grew the more remote seemed their contact with the ordinary concerns of ordinary people. Once a bank helpfully concerned itself with the fiscal aspect of the everyday problems of average men and women, there was no limit to that bank’s growth in size or in usefulness. 


To Giannini, people were the most interesting phenomena on earth.