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The kings of capitalism are finally worried about the system that created them | Dominic Rushe
Now that the political debate has shifted, Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio is the latest in a bank of billionaires to talk about the gap between rich and poor
By Dominic Rushe
A.P. Giannini: Banking, (Re)building, and the Crafting of California

When the sun sank over San Francisco on April 18th 1906 most people were wondering if light would ever return to their lives. At 5:12 a.m. that morning residents felt a shock shortly before their world came crumbling down. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake crushed the city with a magnitude of 7.9 that flattened buildings, uprooted roads, and caused uncontrollable fires that raged freely due to broken water mains leaving the fire department with few options to retaliate.

 The city would rebuild, but to do so people needed funding. Their first steps to a new life were taken toward the neighborhood of North Beach.

 Amadeo Pietro “A.P” Giannini was born on May 6th 1870 in San Jose, California. His father Luigi was an Italian immigrant, lured to the states by the California Gold Rush in 1849 before returning to his home country in order to marry Virginia Demartini. The pair eventually returned to California and in 1872 Luigi bought a farm to grow fruits and vegetables launching his career in produce.

The growing and selling of produce was a family business for Luigi, Virginia, and their two children but they were hit by an unexpected blow when Luigi was shot and killed by one of his employees over a wages dispute. The business continued under the helm of Virginia and her children but in 1880 Virginia married Lorenzo Scatena officially rebranding their family business as L. Scatena & Co.

 Amadeo Giannini grew to be successful in the family business and beyond working as a produce broker, commission merchant, and produce dealer for farms in the Santa Clara Valley region. At the age of thirty-one he left the produce industry and became director of the Columbus Savings & Loan, a business his late father-in-law owned an interest in. Banking was a new career for Giannini but he quickly saw underutilized opportunities to serve the booming immigrant population of San Francisco. Banks at the time only catered to big businesses and the wealthy, turning a blind eye to those who did not have a bank and depended on themselves to protect their savings. The other bank directors did not agree with Giannini’s ideas to reach out to the immigrant population and in frustration Giannini left the company. If this bank would not help those who needed it most, he would do it himself.

 A.P. Giannini

In the summer of 1904 Giannini and five other Italian businessmen opened the Bank of Italy inside a single-room converted saloon, even hiring a former bartender as a teller. From the beginning Giannini’s practices were drastically unorthodox. Unlike other banks who shunned reaching out to find new clients Giannini did everything possible to reach out to the people who had never had a bank or who had been turned down due to big bank egos. He walked door-to-door and approached people in the street offering savings accounts, loans as low as $25, mortgages, credit, and an opportunity to earn interest on savings. He wanted his bank to be for the hardworking “little fellow”, stating that he judged people not by their wealth, but by their character. Along the way he interacted deeply with the people, explaining in full how banking works, the benefits of his bank, and encouraging people that banking with gold and silver was far safer than keeping their hard-earned money unprotected in their own homes. Among his first clients were immigrants, the poor, farmers, small businesses, women, and minorities. Within the first year deposits reached what would equate to nearly ninety million dollars today.

When the earthquake hit San Francisco on that early April morning Giannini knew his single-room bank was holding the financial lives of too many people to risk any damage. Using a garbage cart from Scatena & Co. he loaded up what would amount to just under two million dollars today, covered it in orange crates, and navigated the streets that were crumbling into chaos and quickly falling prey to not only the natural disaster but also to looters and thieves. Giannini made it back to his home outside the city and until the danger dissipated he hid the entire financial foundation of San Francisco inside his fireplace.

The level of destruction left behind by the earthquake was unimaginable. The city was flattened, torn apart at the seams, and scorched leaving people wondering how they would ever return to anything resembling normal. People lost everything but in order to take a step in any direction they would need their money. The problem was that they could not get to it. The large metal bank vaults were turned into mini infernos from the fires and even though the money inside may have made it through intact, they could not be safely opened without risking the contents inside. The cooling process could take weeks. As a result, almost every large bank in San Francisco was forced to shut down with their futures in limbo. The only banker that has access to his client’s funds was Giannini. Within days after the earthquake Giannini was in the North Beach neighborhood with a plank of wood sitting across two barrels taking deposits and giving out rebuilding loans signed for with a handshake. The Bank of Italy, the bank for the “little fellow”, was open for business.

 Aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake.

The San Francisco Earthquake was not the only upheaval that Giannini was able to navigate through due to his unusual business practices, instinct, and absolute faith in the common man. When the financial crisis of the Panic of 1907 hit the country the Bank of Italy patrons were protected. Months before the Panic Giannini had been hearing about possible issues at the New York Stock Exchange and he began campaigning for people to make deposits while working toward increase his gold reserves. When the stock exchange fell nearly 50% in October 1907 the ripple effect hit banks across the country hard but Giannini’s foresight and planning meant that all the assets in his bank were safe. While other banks around the country were forced to place limits on banking or close down, his clients were safe and were able to continue on as usual.

Giannini founded his bank to give opportunities to people and in 1909 the pool of potential clients became infinitely deep when California passed laws allowing the establishment of bank branches. The first branch of the Bank of Italy opened in San Jose, California in October 1909 and within a decade it became the first statewide branch banking system in the United States with twenty-four branches possessing more than ninety-three million dollars in assets. After several years of acquiring and consolidating, in 1928 Giannini merged his bank with Bank of America and other bank branches to create what would become the largest banking institution in the country. On November 3, 1930 the Bank of Italy was officially renamed Bank of America National Trust and Savings Association, today known as simply Bank of America.

Giannini had success and wealth that few people could imagine but for the produce manager turned banking mogul this just meant he could help on a grander scale than ever before. With two barrels and a wooden plank he helped rebuild San Francisco and his further efforts continued to mold the state of California. In 1923 the place now considered the home of Hollywood was still new to the entertainment industry with less than two decades of filmmaking under its belt. It was in this year that Giannini’s banks created a motion picture loan division to help encourage the new industry’s growth. The loans given out by his banks did more that encourage, it helped to ignite the film industry in California with backing going toward hundreds of films. Funding also went to Charlie Chaplin, Douglass Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith in order to solidify the United Artists Corporation which is still operating today. In 1937 Bank of America was approached for another loan, this one for 1.7 million in order to finish production on a groundbreaking film. The film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first ever full-length animated feature. Armed with the funding needed to complete the endeavor, Walt Disney was able to finish Snow White and present it to the world on February 4th 1938. Bank of America went on to finance the production of Bambi, Cinderella, Dumbo, Fantasia, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio. Decades later Bank of America also financed the construction of Disneyland and Disney World.

 The scene outside the Carthy Circle Theater at the premier of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

 Another one of A.P. Giannini’s contributions to California was one that literally brought two parts of the state together. In the 1920s the only way to get from Marin County to San Francisco was to take a ferry across the San Francisco Bay. An engineer named Joseph Strauss saw the imminent problems with only relying on a waterway connection and he developed a plan for a suspension bridge that would stretch across the bay linking Marin and San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 was a very recent memory and many people did not have faith that the extravagant (and expensive) plan would work. Strauss faced multiple lawsuits from skeptics and special interest groups that drained his finances. Strauss approached Giannini, telling him that he was the last hope for the construction of the bridge. Giannini had one question for Strauss, how long would this bridge stand? Strauss’s answer was “Forever!” and it was enough of an answer for Giannini to agree to fund the construction of what he considered to be a crucial addition to the state of California. Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began in January 1933 and it was completed and opened on May 27th, 1937.

 Opening day of the Golden Gate Bridge on May 27th 1937.

The list of causes funded and founded by A.P. Giannini is extensive and includes the foundation of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California, rebuilding Fiat factories lost in Italy during WWII, providing capital to William Hewlett and David Packard to help form Hewlett-Packard, and on his 75th birthday he created and endowed the A. P. Giannini Foundation with a personal gift of nearly $500,000 to support research into the discovery and treatment of human diseases. If he chose to, he could have been a billionaire but that was a title that he avoided at all costs, working without pay and donating yearly bonuses to causes he believed in. Giannini had a distaste for extreme wealth and believed it would only lead to him becoming out of touch and unable to help people. “Money itch is a bad thing,” he once commented, “I never had that trouble.”

When A.P. Giannini died on June 3rd 1949 his estate was worth $500,000, a fraction of what it could have been, and definitely more than he wanted it to be.

A.P. Giannini grew into a force of change in not only his home state, but across the world. He rebuilt cities, sheltered his clients through multiple financial storms, and went on to have a hand in pouring the foundations of numerous parts of daily life today including banking, films, amusement parks, medical research, landmarks, and wine produced in California, just to name a few.

There are few entrepreneurs with his level of success and involvement, let alone in so many fields. From banking on barrels in the earthquake ravaged streets of San Francisco to giving footing to Disney and establishing foundations dedicated to defeating disease, A.P. Giannini became a giant…without ever forgetting the “little fellow”.

What to Watch: Sainsbury's-Asda merger blocked, Barclays revenues fall, and RBS CEO quits
Sainsbury’s supermarket in Selsdon, south London. Photo: AP Photo/Sang Tan

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Sainsbury’s-Asda deal blocked

The Competition and Markets Authority has blocked Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) £12bn merger with Asda on the grounds that it would result in higher prices for consumers.

Shoppers and motorists would be “worse off” if Sainsbury’s and Asda were to merge, the CMA said in its final report.

Stuart McIntosh, chair of the CMA inquiry group, said: “Following our in-depth investigation, we have found this deal would lead to increased prices, reduced quality and choice of products, or a poorer shopping experience for all of their UK shoppers.

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe said: “The specific reason for wanting to merge was to lower prices for customers.

“The CMA’s conclusion that we would increase prices post-merger ignores the dynamic and highly competitive nature of the UK grocery market. The CMA is today effectively taking £1bn out of customers’ pockets.”

Barclays revenues and profits fall

Profits and earnings at Barclays’ (BARC.L) investment bank crashed in the first quarter, heaping pressure on the under-fire bank and its battle with an activist investor.

Barclays on Thursday reported its first quarter earnings, which showed a tough quarter for the investment bank. Income fell by 11% to £2.5bn and pre-tax profit fell by 29% to £846m.

Across Barclays, total income was down by 2% to £5.2bn in the first quarter and pre-tax profit down by 10% to £1.5bn. Attributable profit was just over £1bn and return on equity across the bank was 9.6%.

RBS CEO quits

Ross McEwan has resigned as CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L).

RBS announced on Thursday that McEwan was resigning as CEO and executive director at the bank. He will work his 12 month notice period until a replacement is found.

The announcement comes ahead of the bank’s annual general meeting with shareholders in Edinburgh later today and ahead of RBS’ first quarter results on Friday.

McEwan helped to re-focus RBS on domestic banking activities and away from investment banking. The strategy helped to turn around RBS and the bank posted its first annual profit in a decade last year, before doubling them this year.

UBS profits crash

First quarter pre-profits dived by 26% at UBS, the Swiss bank said on Thursday.

Pre-tax profit at the bank fell to $1.5bn in the first three months of 2019 and operating income fell by 12%. UBS blamed “the challenging market environment and a very strong prior-year performance.”

CEO Sergio Ermotti said in a statement: “The first quarter of 2019 was characterised by challenging market conditions, which improved towards the end of the quarter and into April.

“We’re on track with the strategic initiatives we announced at our Investor Update last October, as well as the measures we put in place to mitigate market headwinds. Benefits from these measures should come in the second half of the year, supporting our attractive capital return plan for the year.”

European markets

European stock markets were in the red after downbeat bank earnings and a mixed session for Asian markets overnight.

Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was down by 0.4%, Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was down by 0.1%, France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was down by 0.3%, and the Euronext 100 (^N100) was down by 0.3%.

Overnight, Japan’s Nikkei 225 (^N225) closed up 0.4%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index (^HSI) was down by 0.8%, and China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was down by 2.4%.

What to expect in the US

US stock futures were pointing to a subdued open. S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were flat, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) were down by 0.1%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were flat.

Companies due to report earning later today in the US include:

Barclays CEO defends under-fire investment bank ahead of activist showdown

Jes Staley CEO of Barclays’ (BARC.L) has defended the bank’s under-fire investment banking division, saying he will “continue with the strategy we set out three years ago.”

Barclays’ first quarter earnings on Thursday showed a tough quarter for its investment bank. Income fell by 11% to £2.5bn ($3.2bn) and pre-tax profit fell by 29% to £846m.

Barclays is currently battling activist investor Edward Bramson, who has built up a £1bn stake in the bank and wants it to cut back on investment banking activities to boost its share price.

Staley hit back on Thursday, following the publication of the bank’s results, saying the investment bank performed well despite “not normal” market conditions.

“This is the sixth quarter in a row in the markets business that we’ve gained market share against the US banks,” Staley told Yahoo Finance UK. “Those who argue that we’re structurally disadvantaged versus the US banks — if our structural disadvantage leads to 6 quarters of growth, maybe we should keep it.”

He added that the markets business within the investment bank was more profitable than the overall investment bank.

“As we seek to improve the overall profitability of the business, if I’ve got a markets business which is gaining market share and generating higher than the bank’s overall level of profitability — that’s a good thing,” Staley said.

“We like the progress we’re making in the corporate and investment bank, we like the profitability of our markets business in the first quarter, and we’re going to continue with the strategy we set out three years ago.”

‘Messy’ and ‘poor’ results

The sign on a branch of Barclays bank in London. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File

Staley is set for a showdown with Bramson at Barclays’ AGM next week when shareholders will vote on whether to elect Bramson to the bank’s board.

Bramson, who owns 5.5% of Barclays through his company Sherborne Investors, is calling for the board seat in order to push through changes at the investment bank.

Analysts said Thursday’s results weakened Staley’s hand ahead of the vote on May 2.

“Barclays is keen to point to a growing share of global banking fees,” Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said. “But despite a better than expected result in fixed income trading, today’s numbers will do little to take the pressure from activist Edward Bramson off the board.”

“The readings from the investment bank don’t look too good for CEO Jes Staley,” said Neil Wilson, the chief market analyst at Markets.com.

Barclays has urged shareholders to reject Bramson’s motion, saying he has a “a poor understanding” of the bank and his plan is “based on multiple factual errors.”

Bramson’s Sherborne Investors wrote to Barclays shareholders earlier this month and said: “An alternative voice on the board would seem to be healthy for the company and its shareholders.”

Barclays’ finance director Tushar Morzaria said on Thursday the bank didn’t know if Bramson or any Sherborne representatives would appear or speak at next week’s AGM.

‘Subdued’ markets

Across Barclays, total income was down by 2% to £5.2bn in the first quarter. Pre-tax profit was down by 10% to £1.5bn. Attributable profit was just over £1bn and return on tangible equity across the bank was 9.6%.

Earnings per share was 6.3p, which was higher than consensus forecasts but below the 7.1p reported in the first quarter of 2018.

Hyett said the investment bank’s performance was “poor” and the overall bank’s results were “messy.”

Barclays shares were down 1.5% in early trade.

The start of 2019 has continued to be tough for investment banks after a brutal end to 2018.

Data provider Refinitiv estimated that investment banking revenues across Europe fell by 25% in the first three months of the year. Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam called it a “challenging” period on Wednesday, despite his bank posting better-than-expected numbers. UBS reported a 27% fall in net profits on Thursday.

CEO Jes Staley told media: “Like the other banks, M&A and capital markets activity in the first quarter globally, but particularly in the UK & Europe was quite subdued.”

Staley said that the US government shut down had led to reduced IPO revenues in the first quarter as companies could file paperwork to go public. He added that Brexit had also hit capital markets in the UK.

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Why Goldman Sachs' EMEA tech chief starts every day with a code review

Jo Hannaford, Goldman Sachs EMEA head of tech and global head of quality assurance engineering, starts each typical working day with a code review.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, Hannaford explained she goes into the bank’s repository of three billion lines of code, picks out a piece, and calls the developer to talk to them about it.

“I do that because it sends a message that we really care about that, but also because it makes me happy,” Hannaford said. (You can watch the full Jo Hannaford interview here.)

“If you think about programming and data as being your first-class asset in any company, managing thousands of programmers, you really need to be able to understand what they are doing day-to-day,” she said.

Jo Hannaford, head of EMEA technology at Goldman Sachs. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

Much like picking up a novel and immediately determining who the author is by their writing style, Hannaford said she could usually identify the person behind certain lines of code.

“I can pretty much, on certain pieces of code, know who wrote them: I actually know the characteristics,” she said.

Hannaford, whose career at Goldman Sachs spans 22 years, said she has worked out why she comes to work.

“Putting remuneration aside for a moment — I don’t want to dismiss that — but I come to work because I really enjoy computing,” Hannaford said. “I think it’s really important to work out what makes you happy.”

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded is a new premium video series from Yahoo Finance UK. The show explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.