Reading the American Banker article "JPM 'Whale' Loss Endangers Jamie Dimon's Bonus — Report," it is instructive to recall that in both the House and Senate hearings on the multibillion dollar trading losses JPMorgan Chase attributed to its "London Whale," CEO Jamie Dimon told members of Congress that "the buck stops with me." Then he immediately described how other people's actions were indefensible.
Some members of Congress asked specifically whether compensation would be clawed back from those responsible. Dimon replied that this option was on the table. When asked if his compensation was also on the table, he said that was up to the board.
Now, eight months after it was discovered that excess government-insured deposits were being invested in high-risk derivative securities disguised as risk management hedges, the board has apparently found that the buck does stop with Dimon.
According to Bloomberg News, the board was scheduled to receive an internal analysis of the botched trading incident that was critical of the CEO and other senior managers. But, there are serious questions as to whether the board will make any more of the report public than had already leaked out.
The board may also feel pressure to take definitive action stemming from a consent order from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, citing evidence of deficiencies in management oversight, audit and control of the investment unit, which reported to Dimon, and a failure to elevate issues to the attention of the board of directors for meaningful consideration. Regulators also released a separate consent order against the bank regarding inadequate anti-money laundering controls.
It is important to remember the "London Whale" incident did not happen in isolation. In addition to this improper investment of deposits and Dimon’s misleading material statement about "a tempest in a teapot," the bank settled with the Department of Justice over wrongly foreclosing on military families and overcharging thousands for mortgages in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in February 2011.
It has also settled over allegations that monthly minimum payments for credit cardholders were manipulated to increase fees, that fraudulent "robo-signed" documents were used in court actions against delinquent homeowners and that it rigged transactions involving federal and state municipal bond auctions.
The bank has also been or currently is under investigation for similar robo-signing allegations pertaining to credit cardholders, for participation in Libor-rigging, for manipulating electricity markets in California and the Midwest, for how it packaged and sold mortgage-backed securities and the extent of its involvement in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
At the risk of restating the incredibly obvious, until the CEO of a major bank is held responsible for the bank’s misdeeds, those nefarious practices are likely to continue.
If the JPMorgan Chase Board docks Dimon’s compensation only for the London Whale’s trading loss, he should consider himself fortunate that they are so myopic.
Jim Wells is president of Wellspring Consulting International, a Florida-based consultancy specializing in expanding access to financial services for consumers who choose not to deal with banks.