BankAmerica Corp., the parent company of one of the world's biggest financial institutions, was founded in 1904 by a produce merchant -- the son of Italian merchant -- the son of Italian immigrants -- who resented the fact that commercial banks did not deal with small depositors and borrowers.

Amadeo Peter Giannini's tiny Bank of Italy -- renamed the Bank of America in 1930 -- emerged from obscurity during the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Frnacisco. Giannini set up a plank and two barrels on the waterfront of the bank's North Beach neighborhood and made loans to individuals and businesses based only upon their character.

Residents, largely of Italian extraction, paid back every penny they were loaned, and North Beach became the first California neighborhood rebuilt after the earthquake.

Within a year, Giannini opened up a second branch in San Francisco, and by 1920 Bank of Italy had 24 branches in California. By 1930, it had 292 branches and more than $1 billion in assets.

Giannini turned over day-to-day operations of the bank to his son in 1930, but continued as chairman until his death in 1949.

The Giannini family retained an affiliation with the bank and the parent company, BankAmerica Corp., until Giannini's daughter, Clare Gainnini Hoffman, resigned last year.

Samuel H. Armacost became the bank company's seventh chief executive in 1981 at a time when the bank's fortunes were getting rapidly worse. He moved first to put the bank in new businesses -- including the purchase of Charles A. Schwab & Co., a discount brokerage firm -- and expanded its West Coast base by purchasing Seattle First National Bank. Seafirst was wounded in 1982 by problem loans, but returned to profitability last year.

But the parent company recorded a large problem loans, most of them made in the late 1970s.

Armacost has made major changes in Bank of America to enable it to be profitable in an era when consumer deposits are no longer cheap and a certain source of profitable lending.

But despite the changes, and the company's operations around the globe, its strength still lies in its legion of consumer depositors in California.