The JPMorgan Chase chairman and chief executive waded into controversy again at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday by saying that the $20bn legal costs the US bank has paid for alleged wrongdoing before the financial crisis were “unfair”.
Mr Dimon initially appeared to be taking a more low-key approach to Davos this year, after raising eyebrows by saying at last year’s event that regulators were “trying to do too much, too fast”.
It is hard to imagine anyone more grateful to Mr Dimon for hogging the critical headlines again at Davos than Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who in recent years appears to have been replaced by the JPMorgan boss as the lightening rod for public criticism of banks.
Mr Blankfein, meanwhile, made a much more diplomatic appearance at Davos, leaping to the defence of Beijing’s controversial foreign exchange policy at a debate moderated by the Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The Goldman boss said China should not be “browbeaten” for managing its currency. “Is China wrong for doing that? Are other countries wrong for objecting? No, but it is hard to reconcile,” added, treading a fine line that was likely to please Beijing.
Mr Dimon, on the other hand, questioned the punishment dealt out to the biggest US bank by market capitalisation for its alleged wrongdoing before the crisis.
“I think a lot of it was unfair, but I am not going to go into the details,” Mr Dimon said in a televised interview with CNBC. He added that the bank had faced a choice between “two really bad options” in either settling the cases or fighting them in a lengthy legal battle that was likely to further besmirch its reputation.
“It would really hurt this company and that would have been criminal for me to subject our company to those kinds of issues,” the 57-year-old banker said.
He then turned his guns on Bitcoin, calling the digital currency “a terrible store of value” that “could be replicated over and over”. He added: “The question isn’t whether we accept it. The question is do we even participate [with] people who facilitate Bitcoin?” Ultimately, he said Bitcoin would be subjected to government regulations and “that will be the end of them”.
On this point, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew agreed with him, saying: “I’ve talked to Jamie Dimon about it. I think he and I both share a certain incredulity about the whole phenomenon.”
“We have to make sure it does not become an avenue to funding illegal activities or to funding activities that have malign purposes like terrorist activities,” Mr Lew added in an interview with CNBC.