It’s not every day that the top of one of the big four American banks — ranking No. 19 in the 2021 Fortune 500 — visits a small-town branch, but it happened on Monday morning in rainy Aspen.
Jamie Dimon, 65, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made a half-hour visit to the East Hyman Avenue branch of Chase Bank Monday. Dimon met with around two dozen bank employees in an effort described as part meet-and-greet, part pep rally. Afterward, he sat down with the Aspen Daily News for a brief but exclusive interview and discussed the local branch, the state of the U.S. economy and the bank’s growth model.
Chase is more than halfway through its plan to open 400 branches in new markets by the end of 2022. It announced its expansion plans in 2018, the same year the Aspen branch opened. Soon, Chase will have officially opened bank branches in all of the lower 48 states.
Aspen Daily News: What’s the reason for your visit to the Aspen branch of Chase Bank today? Do you feel it’s important for CEOs such as yourself to reach out to the rank-and-file workers? Have you been here before?
Jamie Dimon: I always travel, and whenever I travel I always go to see our local branches, our local clients. We had a client event last night, more for the investment management side — but I always visit our local people. You always learn something when you visit the branches, and the woman who runs this branch (Amelia Estrella) is doing such an exceptional job. You can see it in her personality. So, I’m always learning and trying to get things right. If you sit in corporate headquarters and think that somehow you’re learning a lot — you’re not.
I’ve been to Aspen many times before for ski vacations, weddings, business trips [and] the Ideas Festival at the Aspen Institute as a panelist.
ADN: Is the Aspen branch performing well for the bank, and by what measures?
Dimon: I think it’s been great. When I was doing an event in Aspen five years ago, a client said, ‘When are you going to open a branch in Aspen?’ And I said, ‘That’s a very good question.’ I asked a member of my own management team, ‘Why didn’t you tell me beforehand.’ But they said it’s not a particularly big market, though you have very strong players here.
My view was a little different — every market is different. [The branch manager] says 70% of the traffic are people who don’t have accounts in this branch, but they are Chase customers and they need to come in for a reason. So it’s a service branch in addition to a local customer branch. Apparently they have opened a lot of small business accounts, and more people are living here, and the branch is doing just great. I wish I had opened it 10 years earlier. And we are opening in Vail, in Telluride, in Jackson Hole, and many other places.
ADN: In the role you are in, you need to follow the economy and keep up with economic trends. By most accounts, the U.S. economy is rebounding from last year's pandemic-related slowdown. Do you foresee continued economic stability in the U.S.?
Dimon: Remember, if you go back [before the onset of COVID-19], we didn’t have a vaccine yet. Now we’re having one of the strongest economies we’ve ever seen. Some of the data is always uncertain; it’s kind of like — I wish I had a great analogy — like a horse that’s born and walks on wobbly legs, but it’s going to be a very strong animal.
That’s this recovery. It’s wobbly because there are so many things that were different, that we’ve never had before. But underlying that, consumerism is very strong, business is very strong, confidence is going up, people are going back to restaurants — it’s coming back. And there is still a lot of federal monetary stimulus that is unspent.
ADN: What about internationally?
Dimon: We operate in 150 countries around the world; we’re the largest global investment bank. Internationally, simplistically, Europe is basically six months behind us. They’ve got a vaccine out, their economy is recovering. They’re not as strong as America’s and they probably won’t be. China’s kind of got its own cycle, it’s kind of doing OK and has its ups and downs. And every developing and emerging market is kind of different. But generally, they’re doing OK, and you’re probably going to see them improve over time. Almost everyone’s getting better, at their own pace, and at different levels. But they are almost all getting better, which is good for everybody.
ADN: What’s a cause for concern internationally? Nationally?
Dimon: The biggest concern [just for human beings] is nuclear proliferation. But the second biggest, if we’re talking about financial companies … I worry about good public policy. Good policy for me is spending the money wisely. Why don’t we graduate more kids in inner-city schools? We spend a lot of money on that. What works?
All of these things we do as a society make America stronger. And I really do worry about policy not being very well done. You and I can agree very often on the goal, but we don’t accomplish the goal. We face a lot of issues and we have to fix them. I always tell people when I go to Washington, don’t just focus on infrastructure, focus on the outcome. How many miles are you going to build, what is the outcome and at what cost? We owe it to the American public to spend their money wisely, and that we have to demonstrate. If you go around the world … in China, they talk about America being incompetent, we can’t get things done. It’s not just the partisanship, it’s not just the racial inequality, it’s that our policies don’t work. I’d really just like to prove them wrong.
It’s more than [the state of public education]. It’s health care, it’s regulations that cripple the formation of small business, it’s litigation, which is very costly and slow and capricious, it’s immigration. You know we haven’t come up with a immigration policy in 30 years. If we had a healthy immigration policy, we’d actually have a healthier economy — and a moral economy.
These are the reasons we’ve had anemic growth for 20 years, and reasons why the lower 20% has gone nowhere for 20 years. There’s a reason these things happen. It’s not accidental and it’s not magical.
ADN: Is Chase Bank in growth mode, belt-tightening mode or somewhere in-between, or does it just depend on the market?
Dimon: I’ve never ever been in belt-tightening mode my whole life. I tell business people, you always want to get rid of the bureaucracy, the stupid waste and do things to make you more efficient, but you should always be expanding. We’re in 48 states now. When I got to JPMorgan Chase and Bank One 20 years ago, we were in 23 states. And so we’re always expanding products and services while always trying to be efficient.
If a company flip-flops from growth to belt-tightening, it doesn’t work very well. When we first decided to start opening more branches, we didn’t have people who knew how to do it. They didn’t know where to start. Now it’s a machine.