Originally published November 2, 2011 at 9:45 PM | Page modified November 3, 2011 at 5:48 PM

Banker Jamie Dimon talks about Occupy, foreclosures, jobs and more

Jamie Dimon isn't losing sleep over the Occupy Wall Street protests, although the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase says he understands the frustration with the poor economic recovery among Americans.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Jamie Dimon isn't losing sleep over the Occupy Wall Street protests, although the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase says he understands the frustration with the poor economic recovery among Americans.

On Wednesday, just before delivering the keynote speech at a downtown dinner for the University of Washington's Foster School of Business, Dimon talked with reporters about his perspective on Occupy Wall Street, foreclosures and much more.

Protesters in Seattle on Wednesday targeted Dimon and Chase — which emerged from the recession as the nation's strongest and most influential large bank. The protesters called on the public to move their accounts en masse to credit unions on Saturday.

Dimon said he can understand their frustration with Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

"They're right. In general, these big institutions of America let them down," he said. "That's not the same thing as to say that every bank was bad, every politician was bad. That's where I would disagree."

The chief executive, who considers himself a fiscally conservative Democrat, said that contrary to what some think, big corporations contribute to the economy because they "pay their people more, are more diverse, with health benefits. It isn't like they're the bad actors here."

Still, he recognizes not everyone is benefiting from the economic system.

"America has become more inequitable in the last 10 or 20 years. That's a fact," he said. "I don't personally think that's a good thing. I've been a big supporter of progressive taxes."

But, he said, young people who are struggling to find work should not be demoralized.

"Keep the faith. I wish we hadn't put them in this position. Remember those fundamentals always when you wake up: You are in the best country and it will come back."

To support job creation, Dimon said, he supports tax policies that encourage corporations to bring capital back from offshore accounts.

He also supports changes to immigration that allow immigrants who get advanced degrees from U.S. universities to stay in this country. "It's funny to say, 'Educate yourself here and then you have to go home.' "

Dimon said he thinks about job creation every day he goes to work. JPMorgan's efforts have been "astronomical," he said, through lending, hiring and making philanthropic donations.

This year the bank has hired a net 13,000 people, including about 2,000 veterans, while its small-business lending is up 71 percent over the prior year.

The bank also is adding new branches; in Washington, it's opened about 40 branches and plans 10 more next year, he said.

And it never reduced its philanthropic giving during the recession, he said. In Washington last year, Chase made more than $10 million in grants.

He understands some people are still mad about WaMu being sold to JPMorgan for a bargain price and the subsequent layoffs.

"What would you like me to do about it? Put yourself in my shoes," he said. "We try to do the best we can for Seattle."

The bank's acquisition of WaMu's mortgages has turned out to be a bad experience for Chase, Dimon said. The portfolio's losses are expected to exceed $40 billion, but that's not so bad, Dimon said, that he regrets buying WaMu in 2008 in a government-assisted fire sale.

Since that deal, Chase and many other banks have taken a lot of heat for foreclosures on homeowners who had followed the rules and applied for government-assisted modifications.

"We've done a million modifications, OK?" he said. "We don't want people to be kicked out of their homes. We are trying to keep everyone in their home that we can keep in their home."

Chase also made private mortgage modifications, lowering interest rates to as little as 2 percent and extending loan terms, said Dimon.

The regulations enacted after WaMu's failure and the broader 2008 financial crisis are a mix of the good, bad and ugly, Dimon said.

"So much of this stuff is gobbledygook written for totally wrong reasons, and it won't have the intended consequences they wanted," he said.

Measures that were intended to hurt big banks will instead hurt smaller competitors, he said.

A measure named after Sen. Dick Durbin, aimed at reining in banks' debit-card fees, was the most unfair.

"It had nothing to do with the crisis. That was a miscarriage of justice," he said.

Dimon said he's confident the U.S. will come out of its current economic doldrums.

"What we all want is a healthy environment that's growing and vibrant, that's giving jobs and opportunity to people. I think it's going to happen, by the way. It's just taking too damn long."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or

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