TAMPA— The head of the country's biggest bank finds out today whether he gets to keep both of his top titles.
And the drama will unfold right here in Tampa.
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, faces a shareholder push to relinquish the title of board chairman during the New York banking conglomerate's annual meeting. Slated to begin at 10 a.m. at the bank's Highland Oaks campus in East Tampa, the meeting is expected to draw a vocal and potentially large group of protesters outside as well as anxious investors inside.
"It's a fascinating moment in the arc of corporate governance, where shareholders are poised to get a lot of power," said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.
The showdown comes in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article that indicated Dimon may leave the bank if forced to give up the chairmanship. It could be a costly departure, with some analysts saying the stock could plunge 10 percent if Dimon walks.
Dimon, 57, had been the golden boy of U.S. banking, staying relatively unscathed during the financial meltdown of 2008. He was tethered to a "too big to fail" organization, yet loved by shareholders for keeping Chase operationally sound through the crisis.
The sheen started coming off a year ago when a JPMorgan Chase trader in London, nicknamed the London Whale, was burned in a series of large-scale trades involving credit default swaps. The trading loss, initially estimated to be $2 billion, triggered the resignation of the bank's chief investment officer as well as an apology from Dimon citing poor oversight.
Beyond investigations into the trading losses, regulators have looked into the company's trading practices in two electricity markets and whether the bank failed to keep authorities alerted to suspicions about convicted Ponzi schemer extraordinaire Bernie Madoff.
Chase, perhaps to a lesser extent than rivals like Bank of America, has been fighting criticism over missteps and delays in handling a torrent of mortgage foreclosures. It's also a lightning rod for attacks against everything from high corporate salaries to steep credit card interest rates.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently cited Chase for failing to report suspicious flows of money and is considering enforcement actions over the way the bank goes after customers for overdue credit card bills. All told, according to a New York Times story, at least eight federal agencies are investigating the bank.
Dimon has been chairman and CEO for six years. Over that time, shareholders have been asked about separating the roles four times. Last year, when the annual meeting was also in Tampa, 40 percent of shareholders voted to strip Dimon of the chairmanship, the highest total to date.
That number could rise. The scope of the London Whale debacle was still unfolding a year ago. Since then, the bank has disclosed that its losses in the trading blunder surpassed $6 billion, more than triple the original estimate. This year, large shareholder representatives from the New York City Comptroller's Office and the union group AFSCME are among those attending the annual meeting who want to separate the chairman and CEO jobs.
In Dimon's favor, JPMorgan Chase has been financially solid, enjoying record profits three years in a row along with a rising stock price. Its stock closed Monday at $52.29 a share, up 20 percent year-to-date and up 60 percent from a year ago.
For all the Dimon detractors in the financial blogosphere, there are plenty of Dimon backers who say alienating him would be a mistake, especially since there's no clear successor.
Nomura analyst Glenn Schorr, writing to clients last week after a meeting with Dimon, said he found it "fascinating" that investors were considering "shrinking the role of one of the best managers there's ever been in the business."
Although several analysts are predicting Dimon will retain both roles, the final vote may be close. BlackRock Inc., which controls nearly 6 percent of JPMorgan Chase's stock, had not disclosed its position as of Monday.
Strictly speaking, the vote is only advisory. The board could still name Dimon to both posts even if the shareholders vote for a split, although that could trigger a public relations outrage that Chase doesn't need.
Shareholders today will also cast an advisory vote on executive compensation. Dimon received $18.7 million last year, down 19 percent from 2011, when he was the highest-paid bank CEO in the United States.
The choice to hold the annual meeting in Tampa — far removed from Chase's Manhattan headquarters — reflects the area's growing importance within the Chase network.
Though a household name through its mortgages and credit cards, Chase was slow to build a presence in Florida consumer banking until it bought Washington Mutual's vast branch network in late 2008.
Making up for lost time, Chase has grown to about 340 branches statewide, including 60 in Tampa Bay alone. The company has more than 17,000 employees in Florida, 5,500 of them in the bay area. It has emerged not only as a top five Florida bank by deposits, but also the biggest small-business lender statewide.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com.