In an annual letter to shareholders, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), offered some billion-dollar reflections on the past few years.
(h/t: Nick Timiraos, WSJ, for tweeting the letter)
This retrospection is in stark contrast to the Jamie Dimon of smug bankster fame, who reportedly told Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “So hit me with a fine. We can afford it.”
Instead, in the letter, it is those regulators that Dimon is once again addressing.
Warren disagrees that the big banks are over-regulated, but as Dimon cites in the letter, that view is a shortsighted. While customer service at JPM remains comparatively high, and the bank provides vital mortgage funding to community banks, the regulatory and legal burden is preventing huge profits, as Dimon reports in the letter.
“Part of the issue around legal costs is that banks are now frequently paying penalties to five or six different regulators (both domestic and international) on exactly the same issue,” Dimon writes.
“This is an unprecedented approach that probably warrants a serious policy discussion – especially if those regulators (as at least some of them have acknowledged) don’t take into account what is being paid to the others,” he added. “For now, it’s simply a reality for big banks, and certainly for us, that when one or more employees do something wrong, we’ll hear from multiple regulators on the subject.”
Dimon expects legal costs to normalize next year, but said he’s learned a lesson or two from bad purchases in the past — ones he admits he is unlikely to repeat.
“A large portion of our legal expense over the last few years has come from issues that we acquired with Bear Stearns and WaMu. These problems were far in excess of our expectations. Virtually 70% of all our mortgage legal costs, which have been extraordinary (they now total close to $19 billion), resulted from those two acquisitions,” he said.
“In the Bear Stearns case, we did not anticipate that we would have to pay the penalties we ultimately were required to pay. And in the WaMu case, we thought we had robust indemnities from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the WaMu receivership, but as part of our negotiations with the Department of Justice that led to our big mortgage settlement, we had to give those up,” Dimon concluded.
What is not surprising is that the government would not allow JPM to use FDIC money to pay the settlement — that would be basically moving one big government pile of cash to pay another big government pile of cash.
But what does surprise me is that Dimon, by his own admission, thought the bank would be able to do that in the first place.
Lesson learned, Jamie, lesson learned.