The mind-blowing J.P.Morgan penalties

If anyone doubts ethical misbehaviour can be a costly corporate experience they should contact Mr Jamie Dimon, who currently runs J.P Morgan the major US bank.

The extraordinary size of the financial penalties facing this organisation may have slipped your notice. But it’s estimated the fines or settlements faced by the bank will eventually hit a mind blowing £7billion.

And the numbers keep growing. To put this monumental cost into context, J.P.Morgan will probably dish out in fines and settlements almost twice the amount paid out by BP over the Gulf of Mexico spill. That’s a fairly gut-wrenching price to pay for unethical behaviour, even for one the biggest and most profitable banks in the world.

In addition to this huge outlay, the bank has hired an extra 4000 compliance, legal and risk specialists since 2012, to try and knock its culture into shape and back to being able to claim it runs a responsible business.

Nor is JP Morgan alone in the desperate efforts to restore its reputation for trustworthiness, as HSBC for example, commits to hiring its own new army of compliance staff, thought to be around 3000.

So what are the chances all these financial penalties, additional compliance police and other steps will regenerate battered corporate reputations?

As Stephen Howard, CEO of Business in the Community explained in a recent interview: “Every business leader I talk to says they want to do the right thing but they don’t always know how to make it happen.  Business leaders need better, helpful, practical tools they can use. For me it’s how to simplify the journey. What are the practical steps that you could take to drive that through?

I mean how realistic is it in a place of a hundred thousand people—is it achievable?  For example, how do you go about creating compensation programmes, reward structures and advancement processes that achieve all that? As the economy improves and therefore people have more freedom to move around it creates a bigger issue for companies to solve.

So the dialogue we’re increasingly having with companies is around what is ethical leadership, and everything’s kind of grey, you know?” [1]

One of the practical steps is to ensure all staff thoroughly understand not only what the rules are, but equally important, become committed to supporting them by being ready to step forward when they feel they see potentially reputation shredding behaviour around them.

J.P. Morgan for example, claims its staff has undergone 750,000 hours of training on compliance procedures.[2] While that amount looks impressive, according to its 2008 financial report, the bank had 224,900 employees in 60 countries. This number is almost certainly now more than 225, 000 worldwide.  So the reality is each person has probably only experienced a mere three hours in total of compliance training.

Compliance training seldom delivers on producing ethically engaged employees. It takes a far more wide-ranging and in depth approach to creating an ethical culture and the evidence from the ever-lengthening list swinging penalties, such cultures are neither a luxury nor an irrelevance.  In simple terms, for most companies an ethical culture is a no brainer.


Andrew Leigh is author of Ethical Leadership: Creating and sustaining an ethical Business Culture, published 3rd October 2013 by Kogan Page.

[1] Private interview with the writer in September 2013

[2] Treanor, J, JP Morgan boss in talks over fine for sub-prime bond sales, Guardian 27th September 2013


The sixth of the six blogs on HR and Ethics will appear shortly

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