Miami Herald: Chase top exec unveils ambitious plans in Florida

Jan 25, 2010

The Miami Herald publised this article on January 22, 2010


JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, on a visit to Miami Thursday, unveiled ambitious expansion plans in Florida, including the addition of about 600 new employees in the state.

The high-powered banker said at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami that his company plans to open 20 to 30 branches a year in Florida beginning in 2011. Dimon also held a town hall meeting with about 500 employees and planned to meet with clients afterward.

Chase, which grabbed a major consumer banking presence in Florida through its September 2008 acquisition of failed Washington Mutual in the midst of the economic meltdown, expects about 250 of the new jobs to be in South Florida. The bank currently has about 14,000 employees in the state.

“We’re making loans, we’re hiring people, we’re doing what you’re supposed to do as a bank,” Dimon told reporters in a bid to burnish JPMorgan Chase’s image amid widespread populist sentiment against big banks. Last week, Dimon was among an elite group of top U.S. bankers who were called before a Congressional panel to take another bashing for the role big banks played in the financial crisis and the big bonuses doled out as the banks got back on their feet.

To emphasize Chase’s commitment to Florida, Dimon said the bank is adding staff in branches, business and middle market banking and in wealth management. Many new jobs will be professional posts, including branch managers, financial advisors, loan officers and small business bankers.

President Obama’s announcement Thursday calling for major crackdowns on big banks cast a shadow over Dimon’s upbeat news. But the executive declined to comment on Obama’s announcement. “I haven’t seen the details and the devil is in the details,” he said.

Dimon said he thinks regulators should abandon the “too-big-to-fail” philosophy. But he emphasized that bank size isn’t a problem, so long as effective regulation is in place. “It’s important for America to have big, strong banks,” he said.

The executive said when the financial crisis hit, JPMorgan Chase stepped up to the plate to do what was asked, acquiring Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual at the urging of federal government officials.

Dimon acknowledged that loan modifications at banks are slow and cumbersome, but predicted that the process will improve over time. Chase, which has five mortgage loan modifications centers in Florida, plans to open six additional locations by March to work with homeowners who are struggling with their mortgages. Those offices will be in Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Sunrise, Hialeah, Kissimmee and Riverview, near Tampa.

While JPMorgan Chase is faring better financially than some of its peers, it’s still struggling with significant credit challenges. JPMorgan posted net income of $3.28 billion, or 74 cents a share, on revenue of $25.2 billion for the fourth quarter of 2009. Setting aside funds to cover potential loan losses took its toll: The bank added $1.9 billion to its consumer loan-loss reserve and its total provision for credit losses amounted to $8.9 billion in the latest quarter.