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Despite the upheaval and the effects that continue to dog Wall Street since the 2008 crash, JPMorgan Chase has managed to recover more elegantly than some of its counterparts.

This has been in part due to a robust community development program targeted at local impact, strategic partnerships, a deeper introspection of its practices, as well as a public acknowledgement that it needs to do more to become part of the solution.

I asked EVP and Global Head of Corporate Responsibility Peter Scher to name the biggest challenge from 2013—a year he acknowledged was a mix of difficulties and successes:

“As Jamie Dimon, our Chairman and CEO said in his annual letter to shareholders, last year was certainly a tough year as we worked to resolve legal issues we had with a number of government agencies. But our businesses stayed strong, we continued to serve our clients and communities, and we launched some of our most ambitious corporate responsibility initiatives ever, including New Skills at Work and the Global Health Investment Fund. We’re extremely proud of what we accomplished in 2013.”

Urbanization, the growing discourses around investing in natural gas and helping small businesses scale featured among the company’s goals for 2013.

Highlights from its 2013 CR Report point to progress more close to home:
JPMC New Skills at Work

  • Launched New Skills at Work, a $250 million, five-year workforce development initiative aimed at helping close the skills gap around the world.
  • Created the Global Cities Exchange, a program to help U.S. and international cities develop and implement regional strategies to boost their global trade and investment. The Exchange is part of the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project with the Brookings Institution launched in 2012 aimed at helping metropolitan leaders strengthen their regional economy.
  • Provided $19 billion in new credit to American small businesses and, for the fourth fiscal year in a row, was named the #1 U.S. Small Business Administration lender by units.

The report also alludes to the firm’s keen participation in the impact-investing and sustainable development sectors.

For instance, it worked “with a group of peer investment banks to develop the Green Bond Principles, a set of voluntary guidelines designed to promote integrity and transparency in the growing market for Green Bonds, which are issued to finance environmentally beneficial projects” and collaborated with “The Nature Conservancy to establish NatureVest, a new initiative of The Conservancy that aims to create a platform to advance investment in conservation.”

As for community investment and employee engagement, the numbers are none too shabby:

  • Donated $210 million to nonprofits in 39 countries and contributed 540,000 hours in employee volunteer hours.
  • Provided nearly $7 million in grants to promote consumers’ financial capabilities across the U.S.
  • Provided $2.7 billion in community development loans and investments to build or preserve 45,000 units of affordable housing, create 1,100 new jobs, enable 784,000 patient visits and serve 4,400 students in low- and moderate-income communities in the U.S.

As for the report itself, JPMorgan is experimenting with a new format. Expanding on its 2012 Report, which featured an interview between CEO Jamie Dimon and Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek as the focal point to introduce the report and address its critics upfront, the 2013 disclosure goes a few steps further and uses interviews with key stakeholders to tell the entire story.

Framed as a series of stakeholder engagements, the report unwraps over 45 pages – half of last year’s hefty 90 pages – neatly packaged with data, infographics and narrated through conversations between key partners, internal experts and external advisers. It’s a good quick flip through and indicates a move occurring across industries to complement material data with visual storytelling.

One excerpt in particular caught my eye:

JPMC Walter Isaacson quote

Chairman & CEO Dimon responds:


“One thing to keep in mind is that where we did make mistakes, we’ve acknowledged them and made significant progress toward fixing them. We’re investing unprecedented resources to ensure that our compliance and control processes and culture meet the highest standards. And the changes we’re putting in place are designed to make certain our controls will be robust and effective, day in and day out, over the long term.

“We also fully appreciate that rebuilding trust requires more than talk. Our regulators and shareholders want to see progress and performance – and so do we. There is a lot of progress we can point to already, and, by the end of the year, I believe we will be able to demonstrate the enormous amount more – which I think will go a long way toward restoring confidence that JPMorgan Chase is the safest and strongest bank on the planet.”

Of course, this is all easier said than done – and all eyes are on the firm to ensure long-term sustainability.

As Scher states in his letter, the company’s ability to pull resources and activate its deep relationships—not to mention its talent base—is noteworthy. It is in a unique position to create positive impact, influence investment dollars and foster a more sustainable economy.

But herein lies the rub: can an American icon rebuild trust in the marketplace while doing business with traditional capitalists, a static economy and a model that rewards short-term profits and trading returns?

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on May 20, 2014.