JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Commerce Bank founder Vernon Hill ‘made fun’ of Chase

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When Jamie Dimon was backstage at a conference and heard a competitor crowing about taking on old JPMorgan branch leases and stealing the customers, he vowed it would never happen again.

That’s why the CEO of America’s biggest bank, at one point, decided to personally rubber stamp or veto every branch closure to ensure the institution didn’t lose any more customers to rivals.

During a conversation at AllianceBernstein’s Strategic Decisions conference this week, Dimon said at a previous Bernstein conference Vernon Hill, who founded Commerce Bank in the 1970s, crowed about taking on the branch leases JPMorgan had vacated.

“I was in the back listening to Vernon Hill up here, and he was doing a slide presentation for you all,” Dimon—who has led JPMorgan since 2006, recounted. “He was making fun of Chase. [Hill] said: ‘They closed this branch, I moved in. They closed that branch, I moved right in.

“When he was walking down I said: ‘Vernon, that will never, ever happen again.’”

But the light-hearted exchange did prompt a change at America’s biggest bank.

“I put in place a rule at the time that you couldn’t close a branch without my permission,” Dimon—who was paid $36 million for his work in 2023—said.

“[Hill] took 100% of consumer business [in those branches]. 100%. Even if there was a Chase branch a block away [people said]: ‘Oh they’ll just go to the other branch.’ No they didn’t. They wanted that branch.”

Dimon, who recently shocked Wall Street by revealing that he would be stepping down from the CEO role in the next five years, admitted that Commerce Bank “of course” did other things that ensured good service to keep former Chase customers from returning.

The Wall Street veteran didn’t give the specific year the exchange took place, but given that Dimon took on the CEO seat in 2006 and Hill was ousted in 2007, it narrows the timeframe.

Against the grain

Across the U.S., banks are largely shutting more locations than they are opening them.

Research from S&P Global found that in 2023, a net 1,409 bank branches closed. This was a slowdown in the closure pace recorded in years prior: 1,854 in 2022 and a record-breaking 2,928 in 2021.

JPMorgan Chase, on the other hand, announced in February it was making a multi-billion dollar investment into its branches, opening 500 branches and hiring an additional 3,700 employees by 2027.

A further 1,700 Chase branches will be renovated, focusing on entering new markets in low-to-moderate income and rural communities.

Dimon pushed back on the theory that JPMorgan Chase is “doubling down” on bank branches, saying the company is also “consolidating some.” He admitted that even this, he was skeptical about.

“When I got to Bank One they were consolidating—you know ‘clicks not bricks,’” Dimon—who was chairman and CEO of the institution between 2000 and 2004 when it merged with JPMorgan—said.

“They were closing branches that were making $1 million a year profit. They would have made $1 million in profit a year for the last 20 years—what in the hell were they thinking?”

The Harvard alumni also had some advice on branches moving forward—perhaps a tip for his successor: “Be very analytical about what you close, why you close it, why you can keep it. I could give you some very specific examples of times I stopped closing a branch and they act like I’m interfering. I’m like ‘I’m not interfering—don’t close that branch.’ I’m not going to give you all those examples, I don’t want to tell my competition why.

“Also I said: ‘If you close that branch, you know who’s going to open there? Wintrust. CapOne—like, tomorrow. [They’ll] take the lease and move in.”

In addition to ensuring consumers don’t jump ship to another lender, JPMorgan is also answering some of the requests consumers have in the age of online banking.

While the American Bankers Association found in 2023 that 71% of 2,211 adults surveyed prefer to bank via an app or computer, a significant proportion wish their digital banks had more of a human element.

Nearly four in ten consumers, per user experience experts UserTesting, wish their online bank had a human on hand to deal with customer complaints.

Likewise, while many consumers enjoy the convenience of online banking, certain customers prefer speaking to a teller.

In 2021, the FDIC reported that in-person banking is more prevalent among “lower-income households, less-educated households, older households, and households that did not live in a metropolitan area”—aligning with the focuses laid out by Dimon’s team.

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