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Morning Coffee: Is Bank of America becoming less cuddly? Why Jamie Dimon objects to DEI

Bank of America has typically had a reputation for being a slightly … nicer place to work than the rest of the bulge bracket.  The perception has always been that Goldman Sachs is intense, Morgan Stanley is political, Citi is dysfunctional, JPMorgan is snobbish but Bank of America is … chill?  Possibly even a little bit complacent?  Like all such stereotypes, these are for the most part garbage, but there’s always a little bit of truth that makes them persist.  They do make a point of promoting nice guys like Jim DeMare, after all.

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But has it lost its chill?  Over the last week, we’ve seen BoA carry out small surprise job cuts, a few days before bonus announcements.  Compensation expectations have been rebased downward.  And now they’ve sent out a bunch of officious letters to people who haven’t mustered the correct number of card swipes to be compliant with the work-from-home policy. Is this the new Goldman?  Will we see BoA junior bankers doing a Powerpoint presentation about how badly treated they feel?

The letters certainly seem pretty Orwellian.  They are apparently titled “letters of education” and accuse employees of breaching the “Workplace Excellence Guidelines”, despite “requests and reminders”.  Someone is bound to do an online quiz inviting people to guess “Bank of America or North Korea?”

On the other hand, BoA certainly doesn’t have the only human resources department in the world that sometimes accidentally overdoes the business prose and veers from “stern euphemism” to “sounds a bit Soviet”.  Someone presumably intended to express the message “get back in the office or else”, but thought that it looked a bit blunt and unprofessional in precisely those words. 

Even the small round of firings might simply be a consequence of Bank of America trying to be nice.  Brian Moynihan, the CEO has spent most of the year trying to manage headcount without compulsory redundancies, by using hiring freezes and internal moves.  This has been pretty well appreciated by the staff, but when the end of the year comes round and the revenue really isn’t there, then there has to be a sort of “truing-up” exercise, and it will come at a time when people really notice it.

And yet, Bank of America is in all likelihood as friendly as before. The layoffs are small and the letters are mostly going to US retail bank staff.  It might be targeting the other big banks’ market share, but it’s not as fierce as all that.

Elsewhere, has Jamie Dimon gone MAGA?  He’s recently described Donald Trump as “kind of right about a lot of things”, and he recently started a Davos talk to a group called “Female Quotient” by saying “I’m a full-throated, red-blooded, patriotic, unwoke, capitalist CEO”.

Of course he was joking, and of course he hasn’t.  His response to the Supreme Court judgement on affirmative action was that “They spoke, we’ll salute, we’re going to follow the law” with respect to race and gender quotas, but that JP Morgan will keep reaching out to marginal communities and tracking its progress.

There are some things that Dimon objects to about DEI, though. Not all diversity is the same. At one point, the recruitment team kept presenting him with aggregate statistics showing excellent results on “diversity”, but when they drilled down into the data, this concealed merely average hiring and retention of Black employees.

Meanwhile …

Another fund manager joins the trend, as Baillie Gifford announces that it will be making redundancies … (Bloomberg)

But Abrdn seems to confirm perceptions that this is mainly about back-office efficiency rather than cutting back the business, as it is still paying bonuses to fund managers (Guardian)

Ludovic Phalippou came to California as a French farmer’s son turned economics professor and immediately had his mind blown by the possibility of generating incredible sums of wealth through the private equity market.  Then he had it blown again by noticing that the “billionaire factory” was mainly dedicated to enriching the employees rather than the clients, and returned to France to become the most famous critic of the industry, in particular the way it calculates its returns. (Institutional Investor)

“I have learned my lessons”, says Rajeev Misra (formerly of Deutsche and Softbank Vision Fund), and now he’s raising more money from Middle Eastern investors, this time to go into private credit.  Fascinating profile of his journey from a single room on a rooftop in New Delhi, to being one of the very very few non-Emiratis to have a UAE passport. He apparently consults an astrologer, although not for investments. (Bloomberg)

After the last chief Swiss financial regulator resigned due to “permanent and high levels of stress”, Stefan Walter of the ECB will be hoping for an easier time. (Financial News)

Banks like Goldman and Lazard are hiring former CIA and MI6 officers to be geopolitics analysts.  From a career point of view, presumably the best thing about an intelligence background is that you can say almost anything about your experience and nobody can check up on you. (Bloomberg)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Global Editor

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