Chase CEO drops in to quiz Indianapolis employees

When you’re the top executive at America’s largest bank, how do you stay in touch with employees and clients in 26 different states?

For JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon, the answer is this: Get on a bus and go.

jamie dimonJamie Dimon

Dimon and other Chase executives stopped in Indianapolis on Wednesday as part of an annual bus tour.

In an annual tradition it established several years ago, Chase chooses a region within its operating footprint, then sends its executives on a week-long tour of selected cities to get insight into what’s working—and what needs fixing—on the front lines of the bank’s operations.

This year’s tour, which began Sunday, focuses on the Midwest with stops in Minneapolis; Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago; Indianapolis and Louisville.

Chase has $10.8 billion in deposits in the 13-county Indianapolis market, making it the biggest banking player. That's 24 percent of the total bank deposits for the area, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 

Chase also has 1,800 local employees and 72 branches in the Indianapolis area.

During his Indianapolis stop, Dimon was scheduled to address a town hall-style gathering of some 800 local Chase employees at downtown's ritzy JW Marriott, followed by lunch with clients before heading off to Louisville. 

But Dimon also meets with local employees in smaller settings. He invites selected groups of employees aboard his tour bus, offers them beer and invites them to talk. Employees might remain on the bus for an hour or more as the bus travels its route, and a fleet of vehicles follows the bus to shuttle employees back to their starting point afterward.

The executives keep a record of what employees tell them, with the idea of responding to issues and solving concerns. 

“We make a list, and fix it,” Dimon told IBJ during a phone interview last week.

Dimon shared his thoughts on a variety of topics during that conversation.

He emphasized that America has many things working in its favor, including a long history of democracy, peaceful neighboring countries, an innovative business climate, a readily available food supply and other factors. 

“The U.S. has the best hand ever dealt to any country on the planet ever,” Dimon said. “I can go on and on and on. It’s pretty good.”

But the economy also faces challenges, Dimon said. He called the current economic recovery “half of a normal recovery” with regards to GDP growth.

One issue of concern for Dimon is a decrease in the U.S. labor force participation rate, a topic he also addressed in an official letter to JPMorgan Chase & Co. shareholders, released in April.

The labor force participation rate measures the percentage of the population that is either employed or actively looking for work. 

The drop has been especially large among men aged 25-54, Dimon said. Within this group, labor force participation has dropped from 96 percent in 1968 to just over 88 percent now. 

Dimon thinks numerous factors, including low wages, a lack of available training and an expansion of disability benefits, have all contributed the drop. 

“All these things make it easier not to work,” Dimon said.

How long might America’s current expansion last? Dimon said he doesn’t dwell on predictions.

“I think spending a lot of time guessing about the state of the economy is not productive,” he said. “No one knows the future.”

Turning more specifically to Indianapolis and the banking landscape, Dimon said he is “not at all” concerned about Bank of America’s recent announcement that it will establish a retail banking presence in Indianapolis. 

The Charlotte-based bank, which is the third-largest in the U.S. based on assets, intends to open a retail office in the new Cummins Inc. building downtown by the end of this year.

“The way we always look at competition is, you have competition in every market that you’re in,” Dimon said. “As an American, I like competition. It’s a good thing when people compete. I’m in favor of it.”

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