JPMorgan CEO outlines path out of legal morass

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Courtesy of the Associated Press

September 18, 2013 (c) 2013, The Washington Post.

Facing an unprecedented level of legal and regulatory battles, JPMorgan Chase is spending billions of dollars to clean up its problems, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The memo, which JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon sent to employees, outlines steps the company has taken to address the risk and compliance problems that are at the heart of several investigations, including the bank's disastrous "London Whale" trading losses last year.

"If you don't acknowledge mistakes, you can't fix them and learn from them," Dimon wrote in the memo. "So now, as in the past, we are recognizing our problems, rolling up our sleeves and fixing them."

Dimon said the firm has added 4,000 employees across the company to improve compliance operations and poured about $1 billion into the effort. He said the bank has also increased spending on technology in this area by 27 percent since 2011. The bank has spent more than $750 million to address several consent orders and assigned nearly 5,000 people to meet the regulatory requirements.

The memo comes as JPMorgan is set to pay regulators in the United States and Britain roughly $750 million to resolve charges stemming from the bank's $6.2 billion trading loss.

According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Britain's Financial Conduct Authority have negotiated separate settlements with the bank. The Justice Department and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, however, are still investigating the trading blunder.

Nearly every inch of JPMorgan's business has been under scrutiny from state and federal authorities, with critics arguing that the bank is too big to manage. Authorities are looking into how the bank marketed mortgage-backed securities, whether it manipulated a benchmark measure tied to interest-rate swaps and how it recouped credit card debts from delinquent borrowers, among other things.

In response, Dimon said JPMorgan has begun to "simplify our business and to refocus our priorities."

The bank is exploring the sale or spinoff of its stakes in power plants, oil-tank farms and warehouses, as well as the trading desks that buy and sell oil, natural gas and coal. It announced the move in July, after agreeing to a $410 million settlement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over improper and manipulative trading.

This month, JPMorgan said it will cease making student loans in October as the federal government has grabbed an increasing share of the education finance market. The bank has also decided to stop selling identity theft protection and credit insurance. And it is reviewing whether to remain fully invested in a line of business that provides financial services to foreign individuals and institutions.

The whirlwind of investigations and regulatory actions against JPMorgan has dimmed Dimon's once bright star in Washington. The outspoken chief executive acknowledged that he has been working to build "a more open and transparent relationship" with regulators.

Dimon said in the memo that he held town halls in May and June with officials at all three major banking agencies. He also hosted a conference in June with JPMorgan executives who regularly interact with regulators to improve responsiveness and transparency.

"Never before have we focused so much time, effort, brainpower, technological power and money on a single, enterprise-wide objective," Dimon wrote. "Make no mistake — we are going to get this right."