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Jamie Dimon

Can banks find another Jamie Dimon?

The question of who succeeds Jamie Dimon as CEO of JPMorgan Chase might be corporate America’s favorite parlor game right now.

But the real question, for us, is who succeeds Dimon as the face of banking in Washington? It’s a political question with trillion-dollar stakes in the years to come.

This is a role Dimon has cultivated over nearly two decades leading JPMorgan, now almost a $4 trillion commercial banking behemoth. He’s one of the few Wall Street executives to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis with his reputation intact. In the years since, Dimon has used that standing to help shape national banking policy at several crucial junctions.

To wit: Bank lobbyists widely credit Dimon’s public and private bombardment of Basel III capital reform proposals as a key ingredient in the industry’s shockingly successful campaign against the changes.

But the question of who could follow Dimon is complicated. Bank executives tend to be risk-averse, particularly in public. Dimon’s pugilistic style is an exception.

Put differently, Jamie Dimon is a phenomenon of Jamie Dimon. Who comes next will probably be different.

The contenders: There isn’t an obvious successor to Dimon’s role in Washington.

Most insiders start with the safe confines of other megabank CEOs. That includes Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser and Wells Fargo’s Charlie Scharf. But they also rattle off notes of caution for each of these contenders.

By size and profile, Moynihan’s bank is probably the closest analog to Dimon’s. But the BofA CEO’s approach has been described as “cautious” and “low-key” when it comes to the banking business as well as public affairs. Dimon has a tendency to grab headlines each time he speaks publicly.

Citigroup’s Fraser is charismatic and well-regarded in Washington, but she’s not considered a creature of U.S. politics. (The number of industry people who explained this point by saying “she’s British” was…. not zero. She was born in Scotland.) Then again, some insiders argue she is far more politically engaged than former Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat.

More to the point, Citigroup is a big, complicated bank with meaningful business and regulatory problems. That makes its leader a less-than-perfect industry spokesperson.

Speaking of regulatory problems, Wells Fargo carries similar, heavier baggage. Since 2018, the bank has been locked down by an asset cap tied to an infamous fake accounts scandal. Scharf, who joined the bank in 2019 after smooth leadership runs at BNY Mellon and Visa, hasn’t been tarnished by his time leading Wells. But until the California bank truly gets its act together, Scharf isn’t going to be the best banking spokesperson.

There are also candidates within JPMorgan and its next CEO. Succession politics are ongoing, but consumer and community banking CEO Marianne Lake is a clear contender with Washington ties. Other JPM CEO contenders include President and COO Daniel Pinto, CFO Jeremy Barnum and investment banking co-CEOs Jennifer Piepszak and Troy Rohrbaugh.

Weird Venn diagram: No lawmaker on Capitol Hill would dispute Dimon’s relevance over the last 20 years. While no darling of progressives or the far-right, Dimon has long received bipartisan plaudits from Congress.

But Republicans and Democrats alike suggested they don’t want another megabank CEO taking over the bully pulpit from Dimon.

For some, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the desire for change is no surprise. “The idea that the guy who runs a multibillion-dollar bank somehow speaks for American bankers has been a rotten notion from the start,” Warren said, adding:

Over on the opposite side of the political spectrum sits Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), who is a top contender to be the next Republican leader on the House Financial Services Committee. When we asked Barr for his thoughts, the Kentucky Republican heaped praise on one regional banking executive in particular: Fifth Third Bank CEO Tim Spence.

“He’s very young. He’s very charismatic. He knows banking. And he’s an innovation leader,” Barr told us. “He’s gonna be a superstar.” Barr also nodded to PNC Bank CEO Bill Demchak as “very well respected” and said he “really” liked Truist CEO Bill Rogers.

As a second thought, Barr didn’t want to shortchange the megabank CEOs either. “Gosh, it’s hard. They’re all smart. They’re all capable people,” he said.

Suffice to say, it’s clear that regional bank executives carry more clout in Washington today than they once did. That’s something to keep an eye on as Dimon heads to the exits.

— Brendan Pedersen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.