Kübler-Kahn

10 April 2014 By Rob Cox

In coping with the tragedy of the financial crisis, no Wall Street executive has exhibited the five stages of grief like Jamie Dimon. The JPMorgan chief executive has passed through phases of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. His latest annual letter to shareholders finally shows a desire to accept what’s happened and move on.

Not everyone experiences all of the five stages outlined by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” Nor do people pass through them in any prescribed order. Dimon, however, offers a classic case study.

From the start of the troubles in 2008, Dimon denied that JPMorgan needed any government help, accepting bailout money only to take one for the team. He did grab some assistance from Washington in acquiring first Bear Stearns and later Washington Mutual, but he remained confident these deals would not damage what he dubbed JPMorgan’s “fortress balance sheet.” They have since cost the firm billions in losses and legal costs.

When legislators began the passage of more stringent regulations in the wake of the crisis, Dimon flashed anger. He even publicly challenged the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Then came the bargaining: Dimon’s 2012 shareholders’ letter devoted plenty of space to reforms the bank disagreed with, including the Volcker rule. He fired this line at those writing the rules: “The result of financial reform has not been intelligent design.”

Last year’s letter read more like the confessions of a depressed financier. There was contrition and lament over JPMorgan’s “whale trade” debacle, whose severity Dimon initially dismissed. Before the 2013 annual meeting, Dimon threatened to walk if stripped of his chairman’s title, according to news reports.

All of which leads to Dimon’s just-released 2014 missive. There is no lambasting of watchdogs. Though Dimon ticks through the costs of compliance with regulations and the attendant risks for investors and clients, he concludes that “in the end, all these efforts will make us a better and stronger company” and that as a whole, the new regulatory system has “made the global banking system safer, more transparent and more accountable.” That sounds a lot like Kübler-Ross’s final stage of grief: acceptance.

 

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