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Co-Founder Ralph Giannella on Launching Bank of Internet

At the cusp of the 21st century the internet, which has now become an integral fixture of modern-day life, was still in its infancy. Many believed the world wide web was nothing more than a fad — a technological gimmick that would soon lose novelty. The world’s true visionaries however, recognized the growing computer network […]

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Ralph Giannella
Ralph Giannella

At the cusp of the 21st century the internet, which has now become an integral fixture of modern-day life, was still in its infancy. Many believed the world wide web was nothing more than a fad — a technological gimmick that would soon lose novelty. The world’s true visionaries however, recognized the growing computer network for what it was: a revolutionary force that would soon transform every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Entrepreneur and FinTech banking pioneer Gary Lewis Evans is one such visionary. He saw the internet for what it would become. More specifically, he uniquely envisioned how it would transform the banking industry.

Early Days

In the late 1990s, Evans’ vision began taking hold when he met Ralph Giannella, an impassioned young businessman and real estate entrepreneur. Shortly thereafter, Evans introduced Giannella to Jerry Englert, a well-known entrepreneur who had previously founded a couple of successful brick-and-mortar banks. After several meetings with Evans and Englert, Giannella along with a handful of others, joined the team that became the founding partners of Bank of Internet. A unique entrepreneurial chemistry between the partners quickly gained momentum. Englert had once confided in Giannella, “We’re a rare breed, we entrepreneurs, but we tend to find one another.” With Gary Evans’ vision and Jerry Englert’s leadership, the group’s collaboration was destined for success.

Founding Bank of Internet

The partners spent many evenings together in the office of Englert’s Rancho Santa Fe home, conversing passionately about the business world and the affects the internet will have on it. These thoughtful discussions evolved into a concrete and exciting business plan that would pioneer internet banking. It was during one such gathering that Englert first coined the venture’s future name. “Let’s just call it “Bank of Internet,” Ralph Giannella recalled Englert saying. The word “internet” was magic at that moment in time — the group decided to run with it.

Over the next year, the business plan for the bank came together quickly. Each partner went through their FDIC and OTS background investigations in order to secure approval for their federal bank charter — an impressive feat, considering the bank would have no physical branches. After a little more than a year the team was granted the bank charter. Between each of the founders, a total sum of $8 million in personal funds was invested in the venture — an additional $6 million was raised through friends and family.

In 2000, Bank of Internet opened on July 4th. The group’s choice to launch the venture on America’s Independence Day was deliberate, according to Giannella. We felt its launch marked the “world’s independence from traditional banking.” Moving forward, there would be more freedom and flexibility. Without the hindrance of physical branches, banking would be accessible all the time.

Celebrating their Success

Once opened, the bank was an immediate success. “I think we were profitable in the first year,” recalled Giannella — an unprecedented achievement. “This was an amazing feat considering that only a few months prior to launching the bank, the world was going through the dot com crash of April 2000,In May of 2005, after the economy had stabilized, we took Bank of Internet public.” Twenty years later, Giannella no longer has any direct involvement with the bank but, the revolutionary concepts established by Bank of Internet have undeniably transformed the banking industry, redefining the world of finance in its wake. Bank of Internet has since been rebranded Axos Bank NYSE:AX.

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