Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chief executive, says the coronavirus outbreak is a "wake-up call" for government and business to build a fairer economy for millions of people "who have been left behind for too long".
America's best-known banker made the plea in a memo to staff ahead of JPMorgan's annual shareholders' meeting, where he spoke of his "fervent hope" that the coronavirus pandemic would lead to sweeping societal changes by "reminding us that we live on one planet".
At the same meeting, shareholders delivered a rebuke to Mr Dimon's own bank's performance on the issue of climate change, with 49.6 per cent backing a shareholder proposal for JPMorgan to disclose its carbon footprint and plan to reduce it in line with the goals agreed under the Paris Accord.
The bank's board had recommended shareholders vote against the proposal, on the basis that JPMorgan is already doing enough.
About 42 per cent of shareholders also defied the board's advice to vote against a proposal that would have split the roles of chairman and chief executive, currently both held by Mr Dimon.
"The last few months have laid bare the reality that, even before the pandemic hit, far too many people were living on the edge," Mr Dimon wrote in his memo, days after figures showed that 36.6m people had applied for jobless benefits in the US since the pandemic hit.
"This crisis must serve as a wake-up call and a call to action for business and government to think, act and invest for the common good and confront the structural obstacles that have inhibited inclusive economic growth for years," wrote Mr Dimon, who expresses his views on social issues so volubly that there is recurrent speculation about his political ambitions.
He said he looked forward to "sharing more ideas soon" on how to create a more inclusive recovery. He has previously held forth on reforming everything from America's healthcare, tax and education systems to the bureaucracy that ties up businesses.
His own bank has come under fire in recent weeks for helping bigger clients such as burger chain Shake Shack and Ruth's Chris Steak House to tap a small business rescue fund that was created to help struggling companies stave off bankruptcy.
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In the memo, Mr Dimon stressed that most of the customers who accessed the Paycheck Protection Program through Chase were much smaller than Shake Shack and Ruth's Chris Steak House, both of whom opted to return the money after a public backlash.
Mr Dimon said JPMorgan had "provided assistance" to holders of over 1.5m accounts who were "struggling financially" — up from the "hundreds of thousands" of people JPMorgan said it was helping when it announced first-quarter earnings on April 14. The assistance includes "delaying payments and refunding fees across our business banking, home lending, credit card, deposit and auto lease and loan accounts".
JPMorgan has about 66m consumer and small business customers, but a spokeswoman said it would be "improper" to express the 1.5m accounts as a percentage of that total since customers often have multiple accounts.
Wells Fargo said it was helping 1.3m customers as of April 10, while as many as 20 per cent of Goldman Sachs' credit card and personal loans customers were taking payment holidays by April 20.
The votes on climate change and the chairman and chief executive roles turned out to be the most widely supported of the dissident proposals.
Just 15 per cent went against the bank on the continued presence of former ExxonMobil boss Lee Raymond on the board once he steps down as lead independent director later this year.
Environmental activists and the New York state comptroller argued against his re-election in any capacity based on his climate change record. Glass Lewis, one of the world's biggest shareholder advisory services, also urged investors to vote against Mr Raymond's reappointment, saying there was no longer a compelling case for giving the 81-year-old a waiver from the bank's traditional retirement age of 72.
Written by: Laura Noonan
© Financial Times 2020