Pinto endured lonely weeks co-running JPMorgan as world lurched

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By Michelle F. Davis


Daniel Pinto checked into a hotel in midtown Manhattan around 2 a.m. on a Friday in early March, hoping to get a little rest after an epically hard day. Things were about to get much worse.

His slog that day had begun in London with a routine call with his boss, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon. But just a few hours later Dimon was rushed into emergency heart surgery, and the board named Pinto – who oversees the firm’s Wall Street operations – to temporarily run the bank alongside Gordon Smith, the head of its consumer business.

Pinto flew to New York for what he thought would be a brief stay. Then markets began panicking over the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t check out until a month later.

“I’ve seen crises my whole life,” Pinto said in an interview. Yet “we haven’t seen a crisis of this magnitude. It’s probably short-lived but very deep, and it’s everywhere around the world.”

Pinto and Smith’s stint atop JPMorgan through the worst financial turmoil in decades has answered a question that’s long loomed over the largest U.S. bank: Could anyone other than Dimon ever run it? Created with Dimon’s uncanny knack for melding financial behemoths, JPMorgan has leading franchises in everything from complex trading and corporate lending to bank accounts and credit cards. The anxiety among shareholders has long been that its dominance and record-setting profits might not last under anyone else.

And then suddenly, Dimon was sidelined for a month, just as deadly infections exploded across Europe and the U.S., upending economies and sending markets into free fall. The plunge began getting momentum just as Dimon headed to the operating room. Yet by almost any account, Pinto and Smith managed to fill his shoes. Though JPMorgan’s shares are down this year, they’re faring better than all three of its main rivals.

Pinto’s account is half that story. Together, he and Smith had to figure out how to run a giant bank with most of its employees home. As Smith focused on JPMorgan’s vast network of branches and call centers, and flew to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump, Pinto focused on markets and propping up corporate clients. Companies, suddenly short of cash and unable to tap markets, were drawing hard on credit lines, putting their bankers in the awkward position of potentially saying no.

For Pinto, those weeks were both nerve-wracking and lonely. He ended up stranded at an empty hotel in New York thousands of miles from his wife and his three kids. Even at the office, he was isolated.

Most days, Pinto didn’t see anyone but the hotel receptionist, his driver and a security guard at JPMorgan’s tower at 383 Madison Ave., which was virtually empty as employees and executives – including the entire operating committee – worked remotely.

The industry strained under the selloff. At peak moments, Pinto later wrote in a staff memo, JPMorgan’s foreign-exchange desk executed 730 trades per second while the bank’s payments arm processed a daily deluge of $9 trillion. A senior manager on the corporate bond desk traded $750 million of high-grade debt in a single day in March, according to people familiar with the matter.

In some ways, Pinto had been preparing for decades for the role of crisis CEO. A native of Argentina, he embarked on his career almost by accident, taking a job at one of JPMorgan’s predecessors in 1983 to help pay for a degree in public accounting and business administration. He never left. Starting as a currency trader in Buenos Aires, he worked his way up through emerging-market desks, navigating financial blow-ups in places from Brazil to Russia.

Tall but softer spoken than his boss, Pinto has spent the past 24 years based in London, climbing the rungs of JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank, catering to companies and institutional investors. He became sole head of the division in 2014 and has been splitting his time between his office there and the bank’s New York headquarters.

“This time it was different because New York was an empty town,” Pinto said. “It was tough. I talked to my family, wife and kids every day – video-called them – and I was interacting with the people that worked for me and my partners through video. I still went to the gym and exercised every day to keep up my energy.”

It helped that JPMorgan essentially anointed Pinto, 57, and Smith, 61, as Dimon’s emergency stand-ins back in 2018 by elevating them to co-presidents. They honed their rapport and took more active roles in the firm’s control and support functions, while still overseeing businesses that together contribute 80% of revenue. Because of their ages, they aren’t widely seen as the likely longer-term successors if Dimon stays on for several more years. But Pinto said the experience helped them reach big decisions quickly.

“Gordon and I really like to work together,” he said. “We know how each of us operates, his strengths and my strengths. It felt extremely natural.”

Even while recuperating from surgery, Dimon would check in regularly.

“He did challenge us, and gave his opinion on many matters,” Pinto said. “He was 100% supportive.”

It also helped that Dimon had been cutting costs and adjusting the bank’s footing for the possibility that the aging bull market could end. Last year he publicly assured investors JPMorgan was “prepared for a recession” even if it wasn’t predicting one. He had also been warning for years that a downturn could be bumpy if stiffer regulations prevented banks from stepping in quickly.

“You had a long cycle in the economy where asset managers had been accumulating assets, the banking sector was capitalized but we thought a lack of liquidity could lead to massive volatility,” Pinto said. “And that’s pretty much what happened.”

‘Zillions of requests’

Two of the hardest things he and Smith dealt with were figuring out how to move the vast majority of employees home, while still serving desperate clients in ways that wouldn’t endanger the bank’s balance sheet.

“When the markets are behaving that way, you have zillions of requests for funding and liquidity,” he said. There were “plenty of requests to draw on existing credit lines and for new funding facilities.” Pinto thinks they got it right.

As markets stabilized, Pinto’s division moved from that defensive stance to a more active one, advising companies on tapping markets to ride out the storm. Even takeover talks have resumed.

Looking forward, Pinto envisions JPMorgan’s staff working in rotations with about a third logged on remotely at any time, reducing real estate costs, fulfilling sustainability goals and helping prevent overcrowding of public transportation. He worries about not being able to fully measure productivity, so it’s unlikely anyone will always work remotely.

The crisis also proved bankers might not need to visit clients as often, though there could be more regular check-ins. He predicts travel and expense budgets will decline.

“We still have people working from home but we know the technology works, volumes have normalized,” Pinto said. Yet the strategic agenda “hasn’t changed at all. It’s just been put aside a month or two.”

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