Feature

Issue of the week: Jamie Dimon’s big raise

After a year of lawsuits, fines, and government probes, JPMorgan is giving CEO Jamie Dimon a massive raise.

“This says everything” about Wall Street’s priorities, said Linette Lopez in Business-Insider.com. After “a tumultuous year of embarrassing lawsuits,” fines, and government probes, JPMorgan is giving CEO Jamie Dimon a massive raise to $20 million for 2013. Never mind the more than $20 billion in settlements the bank paid out last year, related to mortgage fraud, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, market manipulation, and other scandals. The JPMorgan board slashed Dimon’s 2012 pay—to $11.5 million—when a London trader “blew a $6.2 billion hole in the bank’s balance sheet by trading JPM’s extra cash.” Then, the board’s message seemed clear: “Mess with the bank’s money, you’re toast.” Its departure from that line now “sends a worrying message about what really matters to Wall Street.” Here’s a hint: It’s not the customers.

Dimon deserves every penny, said Francesco Guerrera in The Wall Street Journal. “Once the litigation costs are stripped out,” JPMorgan fared pretty well in 2013. The bank insists that it inherited many of its troubles when it purchased Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns—at the government’s urging. That doesn’t let Dimon off the hook, of course: “Notwithstanding government pressure,” it was ultimately his call “to buy those companies, legal liabilities and all.” Now Dimon will need to prove his worth anew, and shareholders and directors are expecting the bank to have “a much cleaner 2014, without outside noise overshadowing its results.” It still has to convince investors that the board isn’t, as one labor union representative put it, “prisoner to the cult of Jamie.”

That, not the dollar figure, is “the important question,” said Adam Hartung in Forbes.com. Dimon may be a “media darling,” but his aggressive, “take no prisoners” reputation has set an unhealthy tone at JPMorgan. The bank would clearly benefit from separating the roles of CEO and chairman, yet Dimon “has stopped this from happening.” Employees, customers, and investors should take note, regardless of the bank’s stock price. “That Dimon received such an undeserved raise simply points to much bigger problems in governance—and raises questions about” the bank’s future.

But how much is Jamie Dimon really worth? asked Matt Levine in Bloomberg.com. That is a “pretty profound” question for the board and stockholders, and far from an easy one. Fines and fraud settlements, after all, may just be “a cost of doing business as a global bank.” There’s no simple way to compute the actual dollar value of what Dimon does. CEOs, unlike traders with gains or losses, rarely “generate a lot of individual statistics.” Without objective metrics to measure an employee’s value, boards “fall back on market comps.” And in that respect, Dimon’s pay doesn’t seem out of line. For top firms, the going rate is between $10 million and $30 million. “Dimon got paid toward the bottom end of that range last year,” so maybe “he was due for a raise to something more in the middle. Fines or no fines, the reasoning might be as simple as that.”

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