JP Morgan’s Poor Risk Management

JP Morgan’s $6.2 billion “London Whale” trading loss was a much-publicized event in 2012. In the aftermath, some called for the resignation of CEO Jamie Dimon, while others pointed their finger at lax risk management standards within the bank. Yesterday, we finally found out what JP Morgan’s opinion on the matter is in a lengthy report. Their conclusion: inadequate risk management financial oversight within the chief investment office (CIO) and JP Morgan as a whole.

To be more specific, on page 97 the report states, “CIO Risk Management lacked the personnel and structure necessary to properly risk-manage the Synthetic Credit Portfolio, and as a result, it failed to serve as a meaningful check on the activities of the CIO management and traders. This occurred through failures of risk managers (and others) both within and outside of CIO.”

The head of the CIO, Peter Weiland, resigned quietly in October while others involved either left the bank or their positions were rearranged over the past several months. But Jamie Diamond escaped partly unscathed (he did have to testify before Congress and recently had his pay cut to a tiny $11.5 million from $23 million). Interestingly enough, so did JP Morgan’s chief risk officer and the CIO chief risk officer, which is confusing considering the statement on page 97. Two top CFOs were held responsible for the costly blunder, however.

As CFO reported yesterday:

The report, released Wednesday, said JPMorgan’s former top CFO, Douglas Braunstein, “bears responsibility” for weaknesses in financial controls related to the investment portfolio and could have asked more questions about changes in its value and its increasing exposure to adverse movements in the financial markets.

The other former finance chief criticized in the report was John Wilmot, who headed the CIO’s finance function. Wilmot and his team failed to set up robust reporting controls, the report said, “including sufficient circulation of daily trading activity reports, [which] made early detection of problems less likely.”

While the task force noted that the “primary control failures were risk management failures,” the finance organizations headed by Braunstein and Wilmot “could have done more.” In the case of the CIO’s finance team, the task force stated that in part it took “too narrow [a] view of [its] responsibilities,” believing the issues related to the CIO’s credit portfolio “were for the risk organization and not finance to flag or address.”

So while the JP Morgan task force noted that there were errors made on both the risk management side and the finance side, the bank ultimately held the finance department responsible. Braunstein stepped down while Wilmot resigned and will be leaving the bank this year.

The roles of CRO and CFO are often intertwined and overlapping. Do highly risky decisions involving potentially large losses or gains require the oversight of the finance or risk management department, or both? It likely remains a case-by-case basis and this JP Morgan fumble will likely remain the industry’s glaring example of what not to do.

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