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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

JP Morgan should make no apologies to the Chinese Communist Party

It is understandable that financiers might be worried about upsetting the Chinese authorities. Western banks and fund managers have been trying to break into what should become an immensely lucrative and fast-growing market for years.

As yet, the promise has not added up to much. China opened its markets to foreign firms more than three decades ago, but tight rules have meant they remain relative minnows compared with domestic banks and brokerages.

It was only at the beginning of last year that global financial businesses were allowed to take majority interests in joint ventures. Dimon issued a statement at the time describing China as “one of the largest opportunities in the world for many of our clients”. 

This August, JP Morgan became the first foreign company to be granted permission to take full control of a securities business in China.

Despite the slow liberalisation of the markets, tensions can quickly flare. In 2019, the Swiss bank UBS came under huge pressure to fire an economist whose offhand comment about pigs snowballed into an online scandal.

All of which adds up to a compelling case for JP Morgan to go into firefighting mode and Dimon to apologise for his remarks. Yet that still doesn’t necessarily mean he was right to do so. 

For one thing, Dimon’s bluntness, while occasionally problematic for JP Morgan, is incredibly refreshing. The banker is a rare island of straight-talking directness in a vast sea of dull, anodyne and, quite often, meaningless corporate blah.

The world would be a far more boring place if bosses didn’t occasionally stuff their expensively shod feet past their flawless dentistry. 

You could even argue Dimon’s gaffes are a net benefit for the bank. His plain speaking signals his authenticity and sets him out as one of the few people on Wall Street who is prepared to call out bulls*** when he sees it. 

Dimon, let’s not forget, is the only senior boss who was elevated to his position before the financial crisis and is still in his job. A biography entitled “Last Man Standing” was first published in 2009 – and he’s still standing 12 years later. 

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