The history of JP Morgan Chase is an interesting one. In many ways, to know the bank’s story is to know that of the nation. Tracing its roots all the way back to 1799, when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr both played a role in establishing what was then known as the Bank of the Manhattan Company, the bank can boast past account-holders as notable as Abraham Lincoln, who opened an account there in 1853.
A main funding source for both the Erie Canal (1817) and the Panama Canal (1904), by 1920, JPMorgan Chase was the world’s largest bank. An institution that has stood the test of time, the financial giant is still the largest bank in the U.S., with $3.31 trillion in assets and well over 270,000 employees on the payroll worldwide.
Yet, with so many millions of Americans depending on JPMorgan Chase, its shaky track record on respecting the diverse views of its staff, customers, and fellow citizens in recent years is especially alarming. In 2019, the bank famously buckled to fringe political interests by announcing it would “no longer bank the private prison industry,” and it initially denied payment processing services to mainstream GOP-affiliated group Defense of Liberty before backing down and allowing payments to process.
These actions not only signal a one-sided political allegiance and unnecessary risk alienating stakeholders, they raise much deeper questions about JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to fostering a culture that respects free speech, religious tolerance, and open discourse.
Not surprisingly, those questions are further underscored by JPMorgan Chase’s 2022 Business Index score of just 15 percent overall.
What went into JPMorgan Chase’s score? Let’s take a look.
The Market section of the Business Index measures corporate respect for customers’ and vendors’ freedom of expression and belief, as well as companies’ transparency around decisions to deny service. JPMorgan Chase scored a total of 15 percent in this category—a score that would automatically climb on next year’s Index if the company responds substantively to the survey component by Nov. 18, 2022.
However, there are at least two red flags in this category. First, the company’s terms of service include unclear or imprecise language—a recipe for the previously mentioned actions JPMorgan Chase took against Defense of Liberty. In particular, the company’s WePay terms of service include ambiguous prohibitions against accepting payments or using the service in connection with “hate…racial intolerance…or items or activities that encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others regarding the same.”
The policy’s vague and ambiguous language (namely “hate” and “racial intolerance”) was cited by the company as its rationale to de-bank Defense of Liberty— just ahead of an event featuring Cecilia S. Johnson, National Director of Black Engagement for the RNC.
As JPMorgan Chase explained at the time, “Per our terms of service, we are unable to process for hate, violence, racial intolerance, terrorism, the financial exploitation of a crime, or items or activities that encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others regarding the same.” Shortly after news outlets covered the story, JPMorgan Chase reversed its decision, but did nothing to correct its policy.
In order to avoid future incidents like this, and to protect the freedom of its customers, JPMorgan Chase should eliminate unclear or imprecise terms. It can do so by referencing the Viewpoint Diversity Score resource designed specifically for that purpose.
A second red flag on the Market section for JPMorgan Chase is its onerous third-party vendor policy, which mandates that all suppliers adopt and make available diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies and training programs. The not-so-subtle message embedded in the policy is that every JPMorgan Chase vendor can only maintain their contract with the bank so long as the bank approves of its DE&I programming.
As we write in our 2022 Business Index:
While it is reasonable to expect third parties to comply with laws and act ethically, mandatory DE&I requirements go too far by forcing stakeholders to embrace a one size fits all approach to politicized social topics that may be incompatible with their diverse values, needs, missions, and philosophies. This top-down approach risks limiting the pool of potential vendors, suppliers, and contractors able to meet the needs of large corporate clients, hinders the equal opportunity of some third-party businesses to compete for corporate contracts, and undermines democratic pluralism in the wider marketplace.
Instead of compelling vendors, suppliers, and contractors to adopt any one particular view or approach to “diversity” in the workforce, companies should respect the freedom of third parties to make these important decisions consistent with their values and cultures.
Companies—including JPMorgan Chase—looking to correct this mistake can find a valuable resource to do so here.
As with its vendor-facing policy, JPMorgan Chase draws on Critical Race Theory-inspired categories of “oppressor” and “oppressed” in its mandatory DE&I training for employees. Regardless of the intentions of corporate leaders who implement the training, the effect of this approach is to divide, rather than unite, employees.
Consider, for example, the following excerpt from a blog post at JPMorgan Chase, “Why I'm Helping People Fight Their Biases.”
Bias is generally not visible to people who don’t suffer it. As a white male in a business dominated by other white males, you don’t see it unless you actively go and look for it.
Bias and discrimination are certainly antithetical to workplace unity. But confronting these realities where they still exist should never include the inherently divisive idea that a large swath of employees harbor undetected animus against their co-workers because of their sex or skin color.
But adopting misguided DE&I policies is only one reason JPMorgan Chase scored just 10 percent in the workplace section of the 2022 Business Index. The company has very little to show for itself when it comes to respecting religious and ideological diversity in the workplace.
For instance, although it sponsors myriad employee resource groups (ERGs), JPMorgan Chase does not recognize even one faith-specific ERG. That deprives employees with deep religious convictions of the ability to speak to company leadership in an organized, productive way, cutting out an essential component of a diverse workforce that could otherwise fuel innovation and foster a truly inclusive workplace.
JPMorgan Chase could immediately improve its workplace score by not only correcting these shortcomings, but by adopting an overarching policy that affirms a commitment to viewpoint diversity within the workforce. Additionally, the firm should make clear to employees that they are free during off-work hours to express and peaceably live according to their own religious and political beliefs without fear of punishment in the workplace.
JPMorgan Chase earned a 25 percent score on the public square section of the Index. Less than 45 percent of the company’s political spending supports members of Congress and U.S. Senators with negative legislative records on free speech and religious liberty, and it has kept its nose clean by refraining from joining litigation efforts to curtail the civil rights of people of faith.
However, JPMorgan Chase has joined the Human Rights Campaign’s “Business Coalition for the Equality Act.” The so-called “Equality Act” is legislation that seeks to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to the same level of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in federal law. This proposal poses a deliberate and substantial threat to free speech, religious freedom, and the progress that women have made toward true equal treatment under the law.
In practice, the Equality Act would coerce people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. It would harm equal treatment of women by forcing them to compete against men in their own athletic events and share private spaces with people of the opposite sex. And it would harm religious freedom by coercing uniformity of thought and speech on marriage, sex, and what it means to be male and female.
JPMorgan Chase has no business leveraging the assets of its highly diverse customer base to advance such an extreme political agenda. It also has no business donating to activist groups on the political fringe, such as the highly discredited Southern Poverty Law Center and the increasingly disreputable Anti-Defamation League. Yet, in 2017, the corporation doled out $500K each to these groups - despite the work those groups have done to aid and abet cancel culture.
How They Can Improve
Banking should not be a partisan pursuit. Yet JPMorgan Chase has shown a troubling willingness to condition its services on adherence to a political ideology—and one that is growing increasingly radical. As it seeks to correct some of the more egregious issues mentioned throughout this analysis, the banking giant would also be well-served to participate in the survey portion of the 2023 Business Index—due Nov. 18, 2022—which provides valuable transparency on the key issues of free speech and religious freedom.