There's a lot to chew on in Bloomberg Markets magazine's Q&A with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, but this being Super Tuesday we might as well start with America's favorite contact sport now that Super Sunday has come and gone.
Dimon is no stranger to the Beltway rumor mill. No less of an American icon than Warren Buffett has said that Dimon would be his hypothetical pick to be Treasury secretary. Rumors, speculation and maybe just pure wishful thinking from admirers and detractors often result in conversations about what chance he'd have in politics.
Dimon, in the interview with Bloomberg editorial boss John Micklethwait, dismisses the notion swiftly:
And I don’t think you could have a banker serving in a major role in Washington in the next 10 years. I just don’t think it’s going to happen -- it’s just not politically feasible -- so I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Do I think I could do a good job? Maybe. It’s possible.
Of course he is right about all of that. Of all the colorful and unlikely characters starring in this year's season of America's Next Top Candidate, what chance would a too-big-to-fail banker have? As they say in Queens, fuhgeddaboudit. And that's a shame, really, whatever your opinion of Wall Street in general and Jamie Dimon in particular. As spectators of this contact sport, we should question why we would disqualify the most successful managers of some of the most complex global financial institutions before they even step foot on a debate stage.
There are arguably few nongovernment jobs in the world where the required managerial skillset overlaps so much with the attributes of a successful politician: risk assessment, relationships with regulators, pragmatism, diplomacy, communication and, yes, even dealmaking.
Anyway, once the political intrigue is dispatched quickly, the appraisal of the risks to JPMorgan's business is the most interesting part of the conversation.
Does the hype surrounding the encroaching competition from so-called fintech startups have Dimon worried? Not really, it seems. As far as meeting the needs of clients, "there are these certain basic things that aren’t going to change. Companies are going to have needs for equity, debt, advice, FX, and derivatives." Some businesses will "maybe move on" to nonbanks. The biggest risk to banks, as far as he's concerned, is in payment systems.
Otherwise, he's playing the hand that he's been dealt: "I call it tweaking the dials to adjust to the new rules." Let the hedge funds have the complex collateralized loan obligation tranches. Let the Blackstones of the world lever up and buy the assets the European banks are selling.
Perhaps the most intriguing line -- the one that makes the magazine cover along with his portrait -- is when Dimon asks: "But, you know, honestly, who owns the future?" And the answer to that question, as far as the banking industry goes, is that same political class from which the bankers are shut out. Especially when it comes to the "Go Abroad" ambitions of corporate China:
JM: Which Chinese bank is the one to watch?
JD: If the numbers are right, ICBC [Industrial & Commercial Bank of China], which already earns nearly twice as much as JPMorgan. They’ll probably be going a lot faster over time, and one day they can be a lot bigger than us.
JM: Where will they be in, say, 20 years?
JD: My guess is the big Chinese banks will be in 100 countries by then. They will have very sophisticated operations, and they may very well have bought banks around the world in countries that allow it. I mean, I don’t think the American government would allow them to buy JPMorgan. But they will be able to buy a sizable big bank in the U.S. at some point. Whether they do or not, or if it’s allowed or not, I don’t know.
Notably, throughout the interview, the only finger-pointing Dimon does is at the mirror. He's mad at himself for not spotting the London Whale trades before they swelled. He doesn't blame the government for pressuring him to take on Bear Stearns, but blames himself for agreeing to do it. He still manages to compliment the people who came along with Bear and Washington Mutual.
Like many previous occasions, this interview gave Dimon plenty of opportunities to put his foot in his mouth, but he never did. No wonder he has no future in politics.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Michael P. Regan in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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