Don't Show Legal

When it comes to opacity and obfuscation, JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s credit card notices can no longer compete with New Jersey election ballots and car seat installation instructions.

JPMorgan Chase, which last year was named and shamed by the Center for Plain Language for completely unparseable communications with its customers, apparently took the matter to heart. The bank brought in outside consultants to revise the notices and test the result.

The new ones were good enough for the center, a small nonprofit in the suburbs of Washington, to award JPMorgan Chase with a "TurnAround Award." The company's membership agreement, the center said, "has a higher likelihood of being read."

JPMorgan Chase's improvement leaves the rest of the financial services industry with a model to aspire to, the center said. But as even plain-language advocates acknowledge, consistently transparent and simple wording in the credit card industry is still a long way off.

"The regulations are dense, conditions are complicated and the amount of information that has to be included is enormous," said Deborah Bosley, a member of the center's board and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Complicating matters even further, she said, is the role of attorneys in drafting the statements.

"That makes it even more challenging to end up with a clear, concise document," Bosley said.

Rumble in … Ohio?

Speaking of JPMorgan Chase … A group of "1,000 clergy, homeowners, unions" and other protesters plan to converge on its shareholder meeting in Ohio next week to demand that the banking giant "stop dodging taxes" and "stop foreclosing on 100,000 Ohio families" each year, according to a coalition of local community activists.

The so-called Showdown in Ohio is being put together by the National People's Action and Ohio Organizing Collaborative as part of what the organizations called "a series of protests at big bank shareholder meetings nationwide." There were protests outside the meetings this month of Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.

The latest rally is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday outside JPMorgan Chase's meeting in Columbus. Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union will give a speech and activists will be wielding "10-foot puppets, huge banners and signs," according to the organizations.

Safer Inside

Funny you mention the Wells gathering … Its annual meeting in San Francisco has become a pageant of antibank street theater.

Drawing hundreds of demonstrators protesting everything from foreclosures to Wells' loans to private prison companies, the event saw eight arrests after a mix of local clergy and homeowners tried to block the door, according to local media stories. Inside, the San Francisco Business Times reported, five shareholders were escorted out after repeatedly demanding a moratorium on foreclosures.

The shareholders overall were a significantly less restive bunch. All 14 of Wells' independent directors were approved, including some that the shareholder advisory firms Glass Lewis & Co. and ISS Proxy Advisory Services opposed because of their family ties to Wells employees. Likewise, proposals to review Wells' foreclosure processes, allow 10% coalitions of investors to call special meetings and make it easier to challenge directors all lost. The measure to allow special meetings came closest, winning 44% of shareholder ballots.

Shareholders did approve giving themselves an annual nonbinding say on executive compensation, though it was a Wells-approved measure.

Model Banker

The corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis is not known for being complimentary. Typically, at the numerous annual meetings of big corporations she attends each year, she spends her time sparring with executives. But when it comes to Brian Moynihan's looks, Davis just can't seem to help herself.

The chief executive of Bank of America is "probably my best looking cover boy ever," Davis said Wednesday during the Charlotte, N.C., bank's annual meeting. Moynihan is on the cover of the 45th anniversary edition of Davis' famed financial newsletter, Highlights and Lowlights.

"In my 45 years of having published this I have never had so many comments from jealous other men who never made it on the cover," Davis said. "Never ever have I had so many who are so jealous."

Winning Titles

Just eight months after being chosen to run Comerica Inc.'s wealth management and retail banking divisions, Curtis Farmer has added another title, vice chairman.

Farmer joined Comerica from Wachovia Corp.'s wealth management division in 2008. Comerica's chief executive, Ralph Babb, praised Farmer's work in integrating the company's wealth management division with its 444-branch retail network.

"He has closely aligned the business segments under his direction with the business bank and helped strengthen existing relationships with our customers and their businesses," Babb said in a press release.

Farmer will keep his current duties.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.