Wall Street, the global financial community reeling from public outrage and increased regulation, is proving incapable of finding a champion to replace sidelined JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.
Dimon, 56, one of the industry’s most forceful advocates, has lost stature as his bank, the largest in the U.S. by assets, juggles multiple investigations and a $5.8 billion trading loss on wrong-way bets on credit derivatives. His peers at other big lenders are hobbled by poor performance, tarnished reputations or a reluctance to step into the breach.
Bankers across the Atlantic, including former Barclays Plc CEO Robert Diamond and Peter Sands of Standard Chartered Plc, have been muted by allegations that their firms rigged interest rates or were involved in money laundering.
“What you’re seeing in the financial-services industry is a lack of any kind of credible statesmen,” said Rakesh Khurana, a management professor at Harvard Business School in Boston. Dimon’s diminished ability to defend the industry publicly “basically leaves a vacuum,” he said.
That means the industry is without an advocate to resist the most vigorous onslaught of regulations since Congress separated investment and commercial banking with the Glass- Steagall Act in 1933. It coincides with the lowest level of consumer confidence in U.S. banks since Gallup Inc. began polling on the question in 1979. The percentage of Americans saying they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence dropped to 21 percent in June from 41 percent in 2007 and more than 60 percent in 1980.
Dimon, whose bank sailed through the financial crisis without a quarterly loss, offered advice and assistance to U.S. presidents, Treasury secretaries and regulators.
He was unapologetic in his criticism of Washington policies and policy makers. He said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, for whom a new rule curtailing proprietary trading is named, doesn’t understand capital markets. Bankers will need psychiatrists to evaluate whether trades qualify as hedges, he said. Last year he took on Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke in a public forum, asking whether anyone has “bothered to study the cumulative effect” of regulation on the U.S. economy.
Now Dimon is “stumbling like an ordinary mortal,” said Thomas Stanton, a former senior staff member for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and author of “Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail,” published last month. “He’s no longer seen as a purely brilliant manager.”
At least 11 agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are investigating New York-based JPMorgan for its trading losses. Last year, the company was one of five mortgage servicers that agreed to spend $25 billion to settle charges they improperly foreclosed on borrowers. The bank also is being probed for possible manipulation of power prices in California and the Midwest.
The JPMorgan loss “strengthens our case,” U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who co- authored the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory overhaul, said in a May interview. “Jamie has become the leading voice calling this unnecessary, saying you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The industry has a powerful presence in Washington even without a visible leader. Commercial banks spent $61.4 million lobbying Congress and regulators last year, almost double the $36.1 million in 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, nonprofit campaign watchdog.
“They’re spending all this money because they know they are in the eye of the storm,” said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Washington-based group.
Wall Street banks have shifted their allegiance this campaign cycle to Republicans who fought the regulations passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. Four years ago, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. employees gave three-fourths of their campaign donations to Democrats, including Obama. This time, they’re showering 70 percent of their contributions on Republicans, according to Center for Responsive Politics data through June 30 compiled by Bloomberg.
Of the 10 companies whose employees gave the most to Romney Victory, a fundraising committee supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, nine were Wall Street firms, according to Federal Election Commission data. Romney, co-founder of private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, has pledged to repeal new banking rules.
While Dimon played a key role, “there isn’t one singular voice representing the financial sector,” said Rob Nichols, CEO of the Financial Services Forum, a Washington-based lobbying group with 20 members, including the six largest U.S. banks.
Still, the lack of a statesman leaves the industry vulnerable, said Greg Donaldson, chairman of Evansville, Indiana-based Donaldson Capital Management LLC, which oversees $580 million.
“The banks have no moral authority at the moment,” Donaldson said. “Jamie Dimon had it, but that’s done. The government is piling on the banks. They’re just being hammered, and it doesn’t help our economy. Somebody has to fight the damn thing.”
That somebody probably won’t be the head of one of the other big U.S. banks, most of whom are focused on fixing their own firms or repairing their reputations.
Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian T. Moynihan, 52, has struggled to contain losses from soured mortgages that have cost the lender, the second-largest in the U.S., more than $40 billion. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank, which took a $45 billion bailout during the crisis, failed to win Fed approval in 2011 to increase the capital it can return to shareholders after telling investors dividends would climb.
Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit, 55, had his firm’s capital plan rejected by the Fed March 13. Shares of the New York-based lender, the third-biggest in the U.S., have tumbled 18 percent since. Shareholders in May rejected Pandit’s compensation plan, which included about $15 million for 2011 and a retention agreement that could be worth $40 million.
At Goldman Sachs, CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein retreated from making public comments in 2010 and 2011 as his company was sued by the SEC for its role selling subprime mortgage bonds, a case later settled for $550 million, and he testified before a Senate subcommittee. Blankfein, 57, recently began an effort to reshape his image with television interviews, an opinion piece in Politico and speaking engagements. This month, the SEC and the Justice Department ended probes of the New York-based firm.
Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, 54, whose firm announced job cuts July 19 after missing analysts’ estimates amid a 48 percent drop in trading revenue, doesn’t fit the Wall Street titan stereotype. The Australian prefers a rumpled tuxedo he bought as a business school student in 1980 to Armani for black- tie events, and he stocks Vegemite in the executive kitchen.
John Stumpf, 58, CEO of Wells Fargo & Co., has the respect of his peers, and his San Francisco-based bank, the largest in the U.S. by market value, has posted annual profits for more than a decade. Still, he works far from Wall Street and is “allergic” to the role of industry statesman, said Nancy Bush, an analyst and contributing editor at SNL Financial LC, a research firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Part of Jamie’s fitting into that role was his natural brashness as a Wall Streeter and New Yorker, and that is not John,” Bush said. “He’s self-effacing, he’s quiet as a manager, and his company is naturally quiet. It’s not a role that will naturally fall to him, though I think it should.”
Stumpf, who will become chairman of the Financial Services Roundtable next year, said in a February interview at Bloomberg’s New York office that his primary responsibilities are to “my teammates, our customers and our shareholders.”
Spokesmen for Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
A similar leadership vacuum exists in Europe, where prominent industry defender Josef Ackermann retired in May as CEO of Deutsche Bank AG and chairman of the Institute of International Finance, a global lobbying group. Barclays CEO Diamond, who was as outspoken on behalf of banks in London as Dimon was in Washington, resigned in July after U.K. authorities fined his firm a record 290 million pounds ($456 million) for rigging the benchmark London interbank offered rate, or Libor.
Stuart Gulliver, 53, CEO of HSBC Holdings Plc, is hamstrung by allegations in a U.S. Senate report last month accusing Europe’s largest bank of laundering funds for the Taliban, Mexican drug cartels and international criminals. The London- based bank said July 31 that it set aside $700 million to cover potential fines.
Standard Chartered CEO Sands, whose London-based bank has posted eight years of annual record earnings, reached a $340 million settlement last week in a New York probe related to charges that the lender helped sanctioned nations, including Iran, funnel money through the U.S.
It’s no wonder that public confidence has sunk to an all- time low with so many financial scandals and so many of them self-inflicted, said Ann Buchholtz, a professor of leadership and ethics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“This is a case of heroes doing more harm than good,” Buchholtz said. Investors tend to romanticize corporate leaders and attribute success within an organization to them when the drivers of that performance are far more complex, she said. “We tend to make them bulletproof, looking the other way when we see signs of problems. We don’t believe ill of a leader until the evidence is overwhelming.”
Wall Street has had no shortage of leaders, beginning with John Pierpont Morgan, who founded the company that bears his name and played a prominent role in halting the banking panic of 1907. Walter Wriston, who ran Citigroup predecessor Citibank NA from 1970 to 1984 and is credited with introducing automated teller machines, helped New York City avoid bankruptcy in the 1970s with a financing plan he devised with another industry leader at the time, Felix Rohatyn at Lazard Freres & Co.
The dearth of leadership on Wall Street now is “really problematic,” said Harvard’s Khurana.
“Businesses and their leaders are no longer seen as trustworthy,” he said. “When an institution or industry loses its legitimacy, it loses the benefit of the doubt.”
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