The Banker’s Job

Published in the New York Times Op-Ed


I WAS traveling last week on my book tour and landed at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. Because I am geographically challenged and probably need LoJack implanted under my skin, my publisher kindly provided a car to take me from the airport to the hotel. The car wasn’t there.

I called the car service. The dispatcher said: “Go outside the terminal to the curb. Your driver is there.” I went to the curb. Still no driver. After 10 minutes I called back, and the dispatcher said, “I talked to the driver, he’s circling the airport.”

I said: “This airport is really small. That’s not possible.”

A few minutes later, the dispatcher called me to say that the driver had locked his keys in the car. He would be there shortly. I took a cab.

I mention this because of the loss of at least $2 billion — maybe even $3 billion — at JPMorgan Chase. I mention this because of the question it raises: what is your job?

If you’re a driver, don’t lose your car keys seems fairly basic. If you’re a banker, don’t lose my money.

When I was young, in the early 1970s, my college crowd disdained the students at business school. We didn’t trust them. Life was not about money. It was about justice: ending the war, civil rights, women’s liberation, mattresses on the floor covered in Indian cloth bedspreads.

Then the ’80s came. Everyone fell in love with money. Everyone wanted it, lots of it, and not just because we were getting older and realized we might need it for retirement, but because of what it would buy: bigger cars, bigger houses, summer houses, clothes stamped “Gucci” in gold letters. We started to admire anyone who made money. People like JPMorgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon. Like Ina Drew, JPMorgan’s former chief investment officer.

Ms. Drew, blamed for the loss, resigned. She earned roughly $14 million last year while Chase currently pays depositors as little as .01 percent on a savings account and charges as much as $35 a month for checking. She earned $14 million, and she didn’t know what her job was: Don’t lose our money.

Of course that was not really her job. Ms. Drew’s job was to make as much money as she could for the bank, which, under the guidance of Mr. Dimon, would pass on as little as possible to its depositors. Depending on which news report you read or see, Mr. Dimon is either “cocky” or “arrogant.” He said on “Meet the Press”: “We made a terrible, egregious mistake. There’s almost no excuse for it.” Almost? I love that. I really do. There is no excuse for it, Mr. Dimon. Don’t you know what your job is? Don’t lose our money.

Ms. Drew, it has been reported, “tearfully offered to resign multiple times.” Tearfully? Who is she crying for? Please, as one woman to another, if you are going to lose billions, don’t act like a girl.

 Another recently ousted JPMorgan employee, Bruno Iksil, was nicknamed the London Whale. Why did a reckless banker get a nickname long before he got the ax? Doesn’t anyone there know what his job is?

We were smart back in the ’60s and ’70s. We were young and often stoned, but we were right about those people in business school.

When I was returning to the airport to fly home, waiting for the car to pick me up at the hotel, I got a call from the driver saying that she was going to be five minutes late. I didn’t believe her. Why would I? There had been nothing but lies before. So I took the airport shuttle. At least I had an alternative.

published in the New York Times