Many of us are familiar with Jean Valjean, the protagonist from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, made more famous in the 80s thanks to the musical of the same name. In the story, Monsieur Valjean is sent to a prison camp for stealing a loaf of bread: 5 years for the crime and 14 more for attempted escapes.
Jump forward 200 years and people are no longer stealing bread but generating losses on a much larger scale for their financial institutions. Last year it was $2 billion and UBS and today it is $2 billion at JPMorgan (which appears to be the Magic Number).
When these things happen someone has to be blamed. Someone has to be fired. The media, the public, the shareholders demand it. Last year we had Oswald Grübel, Maureen Miskovic, Kweku Adoboli and now we have Jamie Dimon, Ina Drew and Bruno “The London Whale” Iksil.
I get it that people make mistakes. I never get mad at my kids when they make a mistake on a test or get a poor grade; I try to help them learn from the mistake, understand what they did wrong so they don’t make the same mistake again.
That said should any of these well paid folks at JPMorgan be fired for their mistake? Probably not because that would be too easy.
But $2 billion is a lot of bread and so is the $30 million that Ina Drew reportedly made over the last two years. If she (or any of the others) is the one responsible I propose JPMorgan pulls a Jean Valjean on her: make her work the next 19 years for free but someplace else in the bank. She’s pretty smart. The bank should benefit from her skills just make it someplace more junior like an accounts payable clerk, a greeter in a branch, or on the help desk resetting passwords.
To someone making $15 million that sort of of role might be as bad as hard labour.