WASHINGTON – Despite their global reach, including employing thousands of foreign workers, the largest U.S. banks mostly stayed quiet in response to President Trump’s ban stopping nationals from certain Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The ban has sparked outrage from Democrats, civil liberties groups and refugee advocates, including protests at several major airports and in Washington. It has also drawn widespread condemnation from tech companies, including Google, Apple, Stripe, Netflix and Facebook.
In contrast, the sole large U.S. bank to raise concerns publicly about the order—albeit in understated tones—was JPMorgan Chase. In a note to its employees sent from the bank’s operating committee, which includes CEO Jamie Dimon as a member, the bank said it working to reach out to any employees who may be affected by the recent orders.
The bank took a cautious stance, simultaneously expressing gratitude for the “hard work and sacrifices made to keep our country safe,” while also emphasizing the need to be inclusive.
“We understand that our country, economy and wellbeing are strengthened by the rich diversity of the world around us, where we are dedicated to serving customers and communities in more than 100 countries every day,” the bank’s operating committee said in its letter.
The other three largest U.S. banks did not make any public statements on the travel ban. A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo – which has the least international presence of any of the biggest banks – said it was “reviewing the executive order and its implications to determine whether it has any direct impact on Wells Fargo team members and our business.”
Spokesmen for Citigroup and Bank of America declined to comment.
For the most part, banks of all sizes are optimistic about a Trump administration, hoping it can help usher in the president’s stated deregulatory agenda. Yet Trump’s actions regarding immigration – both from primarily Muslim nations and with regard to Mexico – may have a significant negative impact on the banking business. The Trump administration has threatened to force Mexico to pay for a border wall, for example, by cutting off remittances to Mexico, something that would effectively make banks a tool of foreign policy.
Moreover, there could be reputational issues if banks do not speak out loudly or directly enough to some of Trump’s initiatives. Google’s response in particular was widely praised by critics of the executive order, which has been perceived as an attack on Muslims. Some Wall Street reform advocates took to social media on Sunday to ask why the banking industry was not also speaking out. To be sure, speaking out against Trump carries its own risks, as the president has not been shy about publicly attacking businesses on Twitter and elsewhere.
President Trump issued a statement Sunday afternoon dismissing the idea that the order – which targets seven nations, including Syria and Iraq – is aimed at Muslims.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” he said. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
Critics have noted, however, that the Trump administration’s ban provided preferential treatment for Christians, who are a sometimes persecuted minority, traveling from those countries. It also did not include several primarily Muslim nations where Trump has done significant business.