Transamerica began as a holding company controlled by A. P. Giannini, then head of Bank of America and founder of its predecessor, the Bank of Italy in San Francisco. As part of his vision of providing financial services to the general public, Giannini acquired Occidental Life Insurance Company through Transamerica Corporation in 1930. Occidental had first opened its doors to customers in 1906, and became prominent in the life insurance business on the West Coast.
Transamerica, which also owned the Occidental Life Insurance Company (renamed Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Company in the early 1980s), intended to create a nationwide bank. However, in 1956, because of the passage of the Bank Holding Company Act, Transamerica Corporation divested itself of its banking concerns, which were spun off as Firstamerica Corporation. This left Transamerica with life insurance and property and casualty insurance operations.
Over the next 20 years, Transamerica gradually became a diversified conglomerate whose subsidiaries included United Artists (a major motion picture studio), Transamerica Airlines, Budget Rent A Car, and a manufacturer of machinery.
In 1972, construction of the Transamerica Pyramid skyscraper in San Francisco was completed. The company's headquarters was located in the building for many years, although today it retains only a small presence in the building. Nevertheless, the company's logo still depicts the iconic building and the firm continues the pyramid logo on its marketing materials.
In the 1980s, Transamerica sold all operations that were not related to its core business of insurance and other financial services.
In the early 1990s, the company briefly entered the UK market.
In July 1999, with Frank C. Herringer as CEO, Transamerica Corporation was acquired by AEGON, an insurance holding company based in the Netherlands. Transamerica Finance, responsible for commercial lending, was subsequently sold to GE Commercial Finance in 2003.
As part of subsequent consolidation efforts Transamerica announced in early January 2007 that it will be closing its location in downtown Kansas City, Missouri and will be moving the functions performed there to offices in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, Transamerica's products are distributed by the following entities: Transamerica Capital Inc.; Transamerica Insurance & Investment Group; Transamerica Investment Management, LLC; Transamerica Reinsurance; Transamerica Retirement Services; and Transamerica Worksite Marketing.
Three Transamerica subsidiaries—Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Company, Transamerica Life Insurance Company and Transamerica Financial Life Insurance Company—were among the first members of IMSA.