Monday, March 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Jamie Dimon

I am posting this in its entirety as it is an open letter and one I think well worth reading.
“People fall not from their weaknesses, but from their strengths gone to excess.”- Aeschylus

Dear Mr. Dimon,

I used to be one of your biggest fans. Back when I was 17 years old working at a Salomon Smith Barney branch in Ft. Lauderdale, you were fired from Citigroup when everyone had you pegged as the heir to Sandy Weill’s burgeoning empire. Everyone at the branch was shocked, as we all knew you by reputation as a brilliant CEO-in-the-making, and frankly, most of us were disappointed as we genuinely were all looking forward to working under your leadership one day.

While your ousting was unexpected, you recovered quickly, and perhaps it helped motivate you to accomplish great things in the financial industry. You came to the CEO post at Bank One, then engineered its acquisition by JPMorgan Chase and took the CEO prize for yourself. All the while, Citi floundered, and you led JPMorgan Chase to become the premier American bank. Under your stewardship, Chase eschewed most of the sub-prime crisis and snapped up some of the choicest prizes in the ensuing crisis, namely Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Well done, sir.

Personally, I was proud to be a JPMorgan customer and proudly listed in our offering documents that our firm’s operational capital was safely held with your institution. I enjoyed great relationships with both your hedge fund/commercial banking division and your newly resurgent futures prime brokerage group. We were even on good terms with your private bank.

Then, the MF Global bankruptcy happened. And, I became aware of your bank’s involvement with the firm’s collapse. How the New York Times reports that JPMorgan received 325M in segregated customer funds despite the fact that JPMorgan Chase was a primary custodian for them. Then, JPMorgan Chase reportedly failed to return the funds when MF Global reported that they erroneously transferred customer assets and went a step further into “CYA” mode by requesting a comfort letter indicating that JPMorgan Chase had not received customer funds. JPMorgan Chase reportedly did not receive this letter, yet still, it kept customers’ property.

Through my role as the co-founder of the Commodity Customer Coalition and pro bono counsel for some 8,000+ customers whose property it looks like your institution may be holding without their consent, I have loudly advocated for JPMorgan Chase to return this property. In response to this, rather than doing the right thing, you closed all of my personal and corporate bank accounts and my personal credit card. I have been told by multiple members of the media that JPMorgan Chase has called them and stated that if their media outlet has me on television again, that JPMorgan Chase will pull their advertising from the offending network.

These bully tactics have only strengthened my resolve to protect my clients whom you have knowingly wronged and continue to wrong by improperly holding their property. It has made me delve deeper into what I have found is a pattern of such malicious conduct across JPMorgan Chase’s business groups. JPMorgan Chase bribed officials in Jefferson County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the United States, to enter into a disastrous derivative transaction that bankrupted the county and caused an increase of 400% in sewage prices, forcing these poor people to have to choose between food and clean water. JPMorgan Chase designed an overdraft processing system that intentionally prioritized higher dollar transactions so that as many transactions as possible would overdraft, again generating usurious-like fees on the bank of those who can ill afford it. Let’s not forget about robo-signing, forging foreclosure documents, or, getting back to the futures world, failing to properly segregate customer funds.

Mr. Dimon, why do you impugn your character and reputation by allowing your firm to engage in these immoral activities? Sure, the regulators have failed to assess you any meaningful punishments that would deter you from this conduct on a strict, short-term dollars and cents analysis. Every penny of earnings counts, I get it. But, sir, you do not strike me as someone who is trying to pump your company’s stock price for a quarter or two. You are the face of JPMorgan Chase and, I would assume, you plan on being there for a while. Why intentionally destroy any and all goodwill your firm has to make additional revenue that is mostly insignificant in the short-term and, quite possibly, deleterious in the long-term? The only reason I can think of is: because you can. And, that, sir is where hubris starts.

Lately, it seems you’ve come to relish the role of antagonist, bully, and even, villain. You’ve gone on rants about tax rates, how gosh darn profitable you are going to make JPMorgan Chase, and even gone so far as to call out journalists for their share of salaries versus the revenue of news organizations. Put plainly, the confidence that enabled you to build JPMorgan Chase has now become arrogance. Mr. Dimon, I happen to have been a classics scholar and have read this story many times before. It never ends well.

While you have led your firm to a dominant position in the banking industry and record profits of late, you haven’t done it alone. You’ve had the benefit of taxpayer funds, whether you needed them or not (as you claim). You’ve had extremely favorable regulation and public policy that for years has prioritized re-capitalizing banks over the rights of Main Street Americans to be able to bear the fruit of their labor. Yet, you have begun to act like a megalomaniac, drunk on his own power ala Caligula, and attribute 100% of your success to your personal superlatives. People are starting to notice. While Occupy Wall Street has failed to articulate any clear message or goals, they have tapped into a rage in this country that is real and palpable. You have alienated many of your peers on Wall Street and in the hedge fund industry (yes, you have peers). And, now, you have alienated many members of the media that have the voices to spread the word of the ill conduct which your firm has repeatedly engaged in.

In the Niccomedean Ethics, Aristotle described the worst kind of man as the “Incontinent Man,” namely he who knows what he does is wrong and does it anyway. I believe somewhere deep down, you realize that a lot of what you and the bank that you lead do has become increasingly wrong. Why continue to go on like that? You’re at the pinnacle of wealth and power, and continuing to do wrong will not make you meaningfully richer or more powerful. It can only serve to hurt you. “For what will it profit a main if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Based on all of your accomplishments, you may think you’re beyond reproach, that you will never have your comeuppance. But, there’s a reason that during Triumphs in Ancient Rome, a slave stood behind the Emperor whispering “all glory is fleeting” in his ear. Because, it is. And, one day, something bad will happen to JPMorgan Chase. I don’t know if it will be a blow-up of the bank’s some $500 Billion in re-hypothecation exposure or a squeeze on its rumored massive short silver position. Or, if the United States will again see a regulator that believes in, and enforces, stiff punishment for misconduct by banks. But, we will all find out should you continue down the path you are on.

So, rather than continuing to corrupt your soul to harm others for negligible gain to yourself, choose a different path. Use your intelligence and your leadership abilities and your charisma to do the right thing, and set an example for the rest of the financial industry by showing that it is better for all society, JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon included, to not crush those weaker or poorer than you by exacting every last cent from them just because you can. Rein in your malicious activities and focus on the legitimate ones. Be just a little humble -- and remove the target you’ve placed on your own back.

Perhaps, you can start by voluntarily returning the returning all the excess overdraft fees JPMorgan Chase overcharged average Americans through mal intent. While you’re at it, give back the hard-earned property of the farmers, ranchers, retirees, and others who were MF Global clients before I come take it back in court. JPMorgan Chase can borrow at 0% interest from the Fed. Do you really need an illicit free loan borne on the backs of farmers?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re at a crossroads. And, I promise you, one Greek to another, I will ardently help you to come to the end of whichever path you choose.

James L. Koutoulas, Esq.
President, Commodity Customer Coalition
CEO, Typhon Capital Management

HT: Stone over at the Permanent Portfolio discussion forum.

1 comment:

Christopher D. Hall said...

Wow. Well written, rhetorically and morally. Love it, and a great cautionary tale-in-the-making. Lord have mercy on Mrs. Dimon, Koutoulas, and all of us.