A New Wave of Bank Layoffs, With More to Come

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Two things happened recently in the banking industry. First, The Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) will fire 5,000. The other was that Moody’s ungraded four of America’s largest banks.

The Moody’s comments about Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) centered around their new aversion to risk. The opinions about these companies were posted in an analysis titled “Moody’s Concludes Review of 13 Global Investment Banks’ Rating,” which said:

In light of the new bank rating methodology, Moody’s rating actions on these 13 banking groups generally reflect the following considerations: (1) their “Strong” to “Very Strong -” bank-specific macro profiles ; (2) the banks’ adequate core financial ratios; (3) the negative qualitative adjustments made owing to the groups’ organizational complexity and balance sheet opacity; (4) the protections offered to depositors and senior creditors in the US, EU and Switzerland as assessed by Moody’s Advanced Loss Given Failure (LGF) analysis, reflecting the benefit of instrument volume and subordination protecting creditors from losses in the event of resolution; and (5) the moderate likelihood of government support for the operating companies of most of these banking groups and the low likelihood of such support for their holding companies.

It is a complex way to say that banks are less likely to have severe financial problems than in the past, due in part to the trashing they took during the crisis six years ago.

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The JPMorgan layoffs are more about efficiency and less about risk. The Wall Street Journal report says that branch closings and Internet banking have made its expense levels for retail banking less onerous. Chase shares the problem of huge retail outlets with other banks, although purely investment banks do how have that problem.

The fact is that branches, particularly those with low customer traffic, have become anchor-like expenses. Mortgage applications can be done online. So can auto loans, deposits and bill payment. America’s largest banks have thousands of branches among them. Many of those locations are doomed, along with the people who work at them.

The reason JPMorgan Chase has moved aggressively to cut its retail employment is part of an industry trend that eventually will kill tens of thousands of jobs.