During the financial crisis, JP Morgan Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon was the golden boy of Wall Street.
Dimon's bank, JP Morgan, was one of the only big Wall Street's banks that didn't obviously need a bailout during the crisis, and Dimon himself made a strong, likable, and articulate spokesperson for the industry in a period when everyone hated it.
After the financial crisis, however, Dimon was quick to criticize the Obama administration and others for bashing fat-cat bankers and quick to resist new Wall Street regulations, arguing that the industry didn't need any new rules and that firms could police themselves.
Then JP Morgan had a massive trading bet go awry, costing the firm $6 billion. And Dimon's critics pounced.
A $6 billion loss on a trade didn't put JP Morgan in jeopardy, but Dimon was forced to admit that the firm hadn't been aware how much risk it was taking. And that blew a big hole in Dimon's argument that Wall Street didn't need rules and baby-sitters.
And now, JP Morgan shareholders are going to vote on whether one of Jamie Dimon's two titles--Chairman and CEO--should be stripped, thus, supposedly, allowing an extra layer of supervision and accountability at the company.
Separating Chairman and CEO roles isn't a bad idea. When a CEO is also Chairman, he or she often has what amounts to complete control over the company and board, and it is harder for the rest of the board to resist him or her. So many companies should probably consider going this route.
Whether separating these roles at JP Morgan would actually help avoid another big losing trade, however, is another question. And the answer is, probably not.
If Wall Street firms have revealed anything over the past few decades, it's that their incentive systems encourage them to swing for the fences. And given the number of firms that have blown themselves up over the years, it's also clear that the firms are just not very good at understanding or limiting the amount of risk they're taking.
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