JPMorgan Chase Buys Washington Mutual

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The call from the local ABC station came before dinner local time last night. Could I do an interview on JPMorgan’s purchase of Washington Mutual? Sure, but looking at the news reports on the web, there was only the mere paragraph that they purchased the branches and deposits. Nothing about home loans, credit cards, or the commercial real estate divisions of the largest thrift in the United States.

As more information came out, it became clear that Chase bought all the assets of the company – but left the crap with the holding company, including the liability for lawsuits.

The local news station wanted me for my perspective on employment in the company with the takeover. Instead of just a 15-second sound bite, let me provide some longer perspective for knowledge workers on what happens with a takeover.

First, this is a “consolidation” acquisition. That means JPMorgan Chase is buying the assets, in this case, the bank branches and the mortgage loans. They wrote down $31 billion in home loans, telling you a lot about what outsiders thought about their portfolio.

When you do a consolidation acquisition, what you keep is the customer facing operations and throw out the rest. That means that, for the most part, the branches and the people working in them will still have jobs. Anything behind the scenes is at extreme risk for losing jobs.

Second, you need to look at who is taking over a company. In this case, Chase has a CEO with a long history of taking over companies and it is clear what actions will be taken from that. All technology systems will get converted to Chase’s systems. Human resources, finance, credit risk and all of the corporate support systems will have a limited shelf life while they transition to Chase. And there won’t be many executives left – why would you want them for anything but a transition when they ran the largest bank into the ground?

Third, there is geography to consider in this acquisition. Chase is the largest bank in the Chicago market. WaMu is second. Chase has a large presence in New York City. When I was at WaMu, 10% of WaMu’s banking revenue came from the 200 or so branches in New York City. Chase has no presence on the West Coast. Where there is overlap, there is risk of being closed. Where there isn’t overlap, you have a great possibility of staying.

Fourth, all of this will happen quickly – in two to four months the transition will be done. There is motivation to get it done this year as you can take all the hits for the transition on this year’s books – and be ready for the next bank failure that will help Chase.

It’s all probability of course, but examining your situation with these guidelines should help all Cubicle Warriors look at their situation in case of a takeover.

For me, it has been a long journey. When I lived in Chicago, I banked with First Chicago. Which was bought by Bank One. Which was bought by JPMorgan Chase. When I moved to Seattle-land, I never changed my bank account – Chase has superior on-line banking and bill pay. In the rare instances where I get a paper check, I mail it to their center in Kentucky and it shows up in my account three days later.

In spite of my sometimes harsh criticisms of WaMu, it is truly unfortunate to see the demise of the bank. WaMu was started after the relatively unknown Seattle fire in the 1880’s that destroyed downtown Seattle and much of the surrounding city. The bank opened to give loans to people to rebuild. It was a noble cause that the bank lost sight of in trying to move the stock price higher.

There are tremendous lessons to be learned about management and the cubicle warrior in this demise. I’ll have more of that later today.

I’ve received quite a few e-mails this morning noting that my little interview made the national news. It’s a bit sad to go national with a disaster, but sometimes that is what happens. I can only hope that Cube Rules can give career advice to knowledge workers that will help them survive – and thrive – in their cubicle.

What does the acquisition mean to me? I’ll be able to help some friends find jobs. I’ll be able to help some people through their layoff as others helped me through mine.

And, since Chase has no presence on the West Coast, I’ll finally get my local ATM back.

  • […] I were laid off from Washington Mutual about a year and a half ago and, subsequently, late in 2008, Washington Mutual was taken over by JPMorgan Chase. We’ve moved on, of course, but the people still working on the transition from WaMu to Chase […]

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