Culture and Talent

‘The house Jamie built’: How JPMorgan Chase became the industry’s conscience

  • This summer JPMorgan Chase has emerged as the do-good, do-the-right-thing entity that stands, at least externally, separate from its peers
  • Brands know well not to upset their customers or potential customers. Today, brands don't have the luxury of appealing to everyone, something JPM has figured out before its peers
‘The house Jamie built’: How JPMorgan Chase became the industry’s conscience

For anyone who works at, for or with JPMorgan Chase, there’s a familiar mantra that runs through the entire company.

It’s “do the right thing,” a Chase principle that emerged in CEO Jamie Dimon’s first annual letter to shareholders as CEO in March 2006. “Jamie always says, ‘you know what the right thing to do is, we all know what the right thing to do is,’” said Susan Canavari, Chase’s chief brand officer. “He says it consistently.”

It’s a surprising mantra, more at home in a Silicon Valley tech startup than coming from the leader of the largest U.S. bank by assets and highest paid bank CEO in the country.

After all, America loves to hate banks and bankers: They’re often portrayed as soulless money making machines that make the rich more rich and the poor more poor, often by politicians. Fear of a greater wealth divide helped amplify the break-up-the-banks rhetoric and fueled drain-the-swamp promises of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Millennials especially tend to be more critical of financial brands and institutions, said Kellan Terry, PR data manager at Brandwatch; they lived the 2008 recession and either experienced the loss of jobs or the difficulty in finding jobs that came out of it.

But somehow, JPMorgan Chase has emerged as the responsible one, the do-good, do-the-right-thing entity that stands, at least externally, separate from its peers.

But JPMorgan’s connection with the public today seems especially pronounced next to its quieter peers. Brands know well not to upset their customers and maintain the largest possible audience of potential consumers. Banks in particular tend to appear disconnected since they’re always tied up with a political or other corporate interest. “Do the right thing” is not the Chase slogan, but this summer alone the bank has emerged as the voice of conscience in its industry through its various statements, tweets, initiatives and donations.

Since August 1, JPMorgan has been mentioned more than 88,000 times online, according to Brandwatch. Within the past month JPM online sentiment has skewed positive at a rate of 57.8 percent.

“What JPMorgan has figured out before some of its peers is they need to speak on what they want this world to represent and reflect,” Terry said.

Chase is putting its mouth where its money is
In June, Chase removed its local TV and digital ads from all NBC news programming until after a planned interview with right-wing provocateur Alex Jones by Megyn Kelly aired.

The bank’s chief marketing officer, Kristin Lemkau, wasted no time showing where she, and therefore Chase, stood on the controversial interview.

The presidential election changed the landscape of social media permanently and majorly, Terry said. Instead of talking about who’s wearing what designer and meme sharing, people began to need to know who’s on what side of the political divide.

“You lead by example and by your own personal brand, and for [Dimon’s] own CMO to be able to do that — it comes from the top,” said Sam Maule, North American managing director for fintech consultancy 11:FS.

Just a year ago brands were still sticking to the old rule of thumb: don’t upset your customers or potential customers. Today, brands don’t have the luxury of appealing to everyone, Terry said. They’re wising up to the fact that in the current social media environment they have to upset some people — because Americans are that polarized today.

A few weeks after the Alex Jones incident, an internal memo to staff from Peter Scher, head of corporate responsibility, surfaced online, saying the company would pledge $1 million to be split between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League “to further their work in tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations across the country.”

Of course, this plays into marketing. After all, people love brands that “take a stand” on issues that matter to them. Research shows 75 percent of consumers expect brands to make a contribution to their quality of life, but only 40 percent believe they do.

“As long as it raises some eyebrows and people start to consider your bank as more of an entity comprised of human beings that go to work and live in the same environment that you do, as more relatable — that’s not a bad thing,” Terry said.

A word from Jamie
Between those two events, violence erupted when white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups protested the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dimon sent a note to employees saying he “strongly disagrees with President Trump’s reaction,” to the incident. 

That note struck a chord with the public. That day, August 16, JPMorgan was mentioned more than 7,300 times on social media. The major topic and theme behind these mentions was Jamie Dimon’s statement and how he deviated away from what Trump said about Charlottesville, Terry said.

“People weren’t necessarily shocked by it, but they thought it was unique because not as many companies — especially banks and financial institutions — are coming out critically of this administration,” he said.

Then Chase took another stand when Dimon resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council.

“We needed it, we need strong leadership now and if from a political standpoint we’re not going to get it, business needs to stand up,” Maule said.

The conversations that generally circulate around these banks and other financial brands on social media are a lot like those among airlines: both generally use social media to address customer concerns and complaints. Those conversations tend to be more negative; customers run to Twitter to tweet out a problem they’re having, like why their debit card isn’t working or why the mobile banking app is janky.

But as a brand and institution in general it’s now important to address things that garner public reaction; otherwise, people will notice the bank’s silence, Terry said.

“If Jamie Dimon hadn’t come out and said anything like this — instead of talking about if this message was resonating with millennials we would be talking about why there hasn’t been any message at all ever.”

Is it genuine?
Dimon has a reputation for being outspoken and never shying away from the world stage. Some of that has to do with the narrative he’s built for himself, said one former employee of the bank, who remains positive about Dimon’s authenticity.

“I think it’s pretty genuine,” said a former JPMorgan employee. “Of course he cares about the business and the shareholders but I do believe he cares about doing good and right by customers.” 

Dimon’s vision extends to the everyday business. While he once famously declared Silicon Valley is coming to eat Wall Street’s lunch, he then also led the company through its push into fintech and it has emerged as a leader in innovation among its legacy banking peers. It’s at the forefront of Wall Street’s relationships with fintech startups, having invested $600 million just in partnerships with fintech startups in 2016. Last year it also began shifting its data trove to public cloud storage and creating its own private cloud. And that was part of a greater $9.5 billion budget dedicated to technology. Chase’s transformation from a slow, siloed organization to a more agile, open one has brought the importance of company culture and leadership to the fore.

“With this digital push in the firm, it’s really hard to devise an overall culture for the entire company,” the ex-JPM employee said. “It’s very driven by each division of the bank and how the head of that division drives down culture for that side of the house. Jamie is in an interesting role because he does act differently depending on which side of the bank he lands… on the investment banking side he’s not as ‘nice and friendly’ but on the Chase side he 100 percent is.”

The arrival of fintech has presented an opportunity for banks to change mainstream consumer perception of retail banks and distance themselves from investment banking’s reckless investors.While other banks are also pushing forward on fintech innovation, they’re keeping things closer to their chest, which doesn’t make for good marketing. Last year Goldman Sachs made its first foray into consumer banking, launching an online bank with a $1 minimum deposit. This year it launched an online consumer lending startup with the slogan “Debt happens. It’s how you get out that counts.” In 2015 Citi launched its FinTech unit, which is dedicated to making its workplace feel like a startup and breaking the misconception that large banks are “too big to change,” its CEO told Tearsheet in March.

“Chase sees an opportunity to differentiate itself from ‘Wall Street,'” the former employee said. “There’s only one Jamie at the entire bank. It’s like the house that Jamie built.”

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