Monday, July 11, 2011

The Shame of the JP Morgan Chase Bank

A man walks into a bank. Specifically, he walks into a branch of the Chase Bank in Auburn, WA. He hands the teller a cashier’s check issued by the Chase Bank. He produces  a valid picture ID.

By now you have probably heard the story of what happened to Ikenna Njoku after he took these actions a year ago.

Through an astonishing series of mistakes and missteps, Njoku was humiliated by a bank officer, arrested for forgery, and thrown in jail for four days. Since he was going to use the money from the check to pay off his car loan, he could not do so. The car was repossessed and auctioned off. And since he was in jail, he could not show up for work. Thus, he lost his job. Link here.

What did Chase have to say about all this. Nothing. Until recently, that is. It took Chase one year to offer a perfunctory apology. It has still not figured out how to make restitution.

To be completely fair, soon after Mr. Njoku was thrown in jail, Chase did discover that the check was valid. Considering that it was their check, you wonder what took them so long. An officer called the police department and left a voice mail message for the lead detective on the case. Since he left the message on a Friday, the detective’s day off, the detective did not get the message until Monday.

The number of errors here defies calculation.

The bank officer who refused to accept the check in the first place seems to have been motivated by a racial animus. Who is this officer? Does she still have her job? What is her name?

The detective who had a day off on Friday should either have left a message on her voice mail announcing that she would not be picking up her messages until Monday or she should have checked her messages on her day off. She did neither. Has she been reprimanded? What is her name?

The Chase officer who called the detective should have followed up. He should have ensured that the message had gotten through to the proper authorities. When you are responsible for someone’s being in jail, you need to do more than leave a single message. You should be aware of the fact that every minute the message does not get through is a minute that a man is spending in jail unjustly.

Has the bank officer who treated the situation with all due insouciance been reprimanded? What is his name?

Now that the true story has been revealed, why hasn’t anyone followed up with the construction company? Couldn’t the local press call the construction manager who fired Mr. Njoku and ask the manager to reinstate his employment?

No one is suggesting that the construction company does not have the right to fire an employee who failed to show up for work and did not call in, but you would think that a company that wanted to burnish its public image would want to give the man his job back?

Recently, Chase offered a pro-forma written apology. That is simply inadequate. An officer from Chase should make a public verbal apology, in front of the news media.

Chase officials seem to be hiding behind corporate anonymity. In my view someone at Chase should lose his or her job over this.

Talk is cheap. Taking responsibility means paying a personal price.

Finally, Chase has recently discovered that it owes Mr. Njoku amends. But, what would constitute proper amends?

It would certainly be a good idea for some of the more serious people at JP Morgan Chase to take charge of this situation and offer Mr. Njoku just compensation for the pain and anguish he suffered for having been a customer at their bank.

Otherwise, as you and I know, the situation will all be litigated. And no one can seriously imagine that JP Morgan wants or needs this to go to trial.


David Foster said...

Disappointing, given that Jamie Dimon is one of the *best* bank CEOs from the standpoint of perceptiveness and character. (I should note that I'm a JPM shareholder)

Obviously there is some severe dysfunctionality of management at JPM to allow this to happen. Also at the police department, it makes no sense for a detective's phone calls to be routed to voicemail. There should be a backup individual assigned, or (retro thought alert) a ***secretary*** to enhance communications.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm thinking that this kind of thing is not part of Jamie Dimon's job description. Still, the virtue of public exposure is that he and the management team at headquarters will now be forced to deal with the situation. And they should certainly hold someone in Seattle accountable.

I agree entirely that a detective's phone calls should not be routed to voice mail. It doesn't take too much for these calls to be routed to an individual.

David Foster said...

It is absolutely part of Dimon's job description. The question that should be asked is not just "who screwed up in Seattle?", but rather, "What is wrong with our organization structure, people-selection criteria, communications between management layers, etc, that could allow such a thing to happen?" The ask why five times approach would be a good way to start.

I think many senior executives are so consumed with mergers/acquisitions, global economic concerns, keeping the politicians & regulators at bay, etc etc, that they are not devoting adequate attention to the fundamentals of actually *managing*, This seems to be worse in banking/finance than in most other industries.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Your point is well taken. I should have said that he probably does not think it is part of his job description. While we are all worrying about the collapse of the financial system, we do not have too much left to pay attention to the way a bank treats its customers. And yet, it certainly should.

I wonder if a bank that does not treat its customers with proper respect does a better job with their money?

Could the two be connected?