Dimon says coronavirus crisis is ‘wake-up call’ to build fairer economy

Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, says the coronavirus outbreak is a “wake-up call” for government and business to build a fairer economy for millions of people “who have been left behind for too long”.

In a staff memo ahead of Tuesday morning’s annual shareholders’ meeting, America’s best-known banker said the crisis had already prompted JPMorgan to extend payment and interest relief to more than 1.5m account holders.

“The last few months have laid bare the reality that, even before the pandemic hit, far too many people were living on the edge,” Mr Dimon wrote, days after new figures showed that 36.6m people had applied for jobless benefits in the US since the pandemic hit.

“This crisis must serve as a wake-up call and a call to action for business and government to think, act and invest for the common good and confront the structural obstacles that have inhibited inclusive economic growth for years,” said Mr Dimon, who expresses his views on social issues so volubly that there is recurrent speculation about his political ambitions.

Mr Dimon said he looked forward to “sharing more ideas soon” on how to create a more inclusive recovery. He has previously held forth on reforming everything from America’s healthcare, tax and education systems to the bureaucracy that ties up businesses.

His own bank has come under fire in recent weeks for helping bigger clients such as burger chain Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House to tap a small business rescue fund that was created to help struggling firms to stave off bankruptcy.

In the memo, Mr Dimon stressed that most of the customers who accessed the Paycheck Protection Program through Chase were much smaller than Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, both of whom opted to return the money after a public backlash.

Mr Dimon said JPMorgan has “provided assistance” to holders of over 1.5m accounts who were “struggling financially” — up from the “hundreds of thousands” of people JPMorgan said it was helping when it announced first-quarter earnings on April 14. The assistance includes “delaying payments and refunding fees across our business banking, home lending, credit card, deposit and auto lease and loan accounts”.

JPMorgan has around 66m consumer and small business customers, but a spokeswoman said it would be “improper” to express the 1.5m accounts as a percentage of that total since customers often have multiple accounts.

Wells Fargo said it was helping 1.3m customers as of April 10, while as many as 20 per cent of Goldman Sachs’ credit card and personal loans customers were taking payment holidays by April 20.

The most contentious issue at JPMorgan’s AGM is likely to be the re-election of its lead independent director, former ExxonMobil boss Lee Raymond, who is being proposed for a regular board seat this year after the bank promised to find a successor for the lead director role.

Environmental activists and the New York state comptroller have argued against his re-election in any capacity based on his climate change record. Glass Lewis, one of the world’s biggest shareholder advisory services, is also urging investors to vote against Mr Raymond’s reappointment, saying there is no longer a compelling case for giving the 81-year-old a waiver from the bank’s traditional retirement age of 72.

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