JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest, most profitable, and most valuable U.S. bank, has opened the first of what it says will be dozens of new full-service branches in the Philadelphia area.
The move is an attempt to corral the one million Chase credit card users and mortgage holders in the area to buy more JPMorgan products. And it will raise the local profile of a company that already ranks among the region’s largest corporate employers. JPMorgan’s sites include a surprisingly vital financial-tech R&D department, based in a converted drug research center on Route 202 in Delaware, where the bank’s software architects and developers collect dozens of patents a year, and have helped give America the systems underlying E-ZPass, secure smartphone spending apps, and contact-free credit approvals.
Four months after CEO Jamie Dimon detailed his plans to grow in Philly and in other places where Chase lacked branches, Mayor Jim Kenney plans on Monday to visit the company’s new Chase outpost at 1636 Walnut St., near Rittenhouse Square, for its grand opening.
The bank has also added branches in Villanova and Camden, and plans more at sites adjoining the University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware, and Comcast campuses, and in the “fulfillment center” warehouse district of Burlington Township, among others.
The bank employs more than 10,000 people in the region — most in Delaware — ranking JPMorgan Chase with Vanguard Group, Merck, Comcast, and Wawa among the region’s largest corporate employers. JPMorgan has ties to all those companies — it has served as a lead lender to Vanguard and Comcast, and as a financial adviser to Merck and credit card issuer to Wawa — and will presumably target their employees. Michele Lawrence, formerly of Wells Fargo and once a Democratic candidate in Philadelphia’s 1st Congressional District primary, was hired as region director to lead Chase expansion in the Delaware Valley.
To brace for Chase, rival Citizens Financial Group, a Providence, R.I.-based company that has the largest branch network in the city and its Pennsylvania suburbs (149 offices, including old Girard and PSFS sites), has boosted key employee pay, contacted customers it especially wants to keep, and last month moved its own Rittenhouse Square-area branch from mid-block at 214 S. 20th St. to a prime corner at 1700 Walnut.
“They will have a tough time peeling our customers away,” Citizens CEO Bruce Van Saun boasted last week. “We’ve jumped on some of the best locations in Philadelphia to get ahead of their game.”
More Americans are doing their banking by smartphone and online — or have done away with retail banks altogether, adopting fin-tech applications like Philadelphia-based Perpay, a paycheck-deduction installment-purchase system whose backers include JPMorgan. So the bank isn’t carpeting all neighborhoods with its offices, as big banks used to do. It’s cherry-picking high-profile locations as loan and investment centers that double as billboards for the brand.
Never mind that U.S. banks have closed more than one in 10 of their once-100,000 branches — one in six in the Philadelphia area — in the last decade. If trends continue, JPMorgan’s network of more than 5,000 branches, having already passed the once-dominant Bank of America network, will replace Wells Fargo’s as the largest in the United States over the next few years, according to FDIC data.
Branch-building is one of the projects that Dimon said he would target to invest some of the windfall billions that the company has kept as extra profits, thanks to corporate tax cuts. The bank reported after-tax profits of $32.5 billion last year or $2.7 billion a month, up from $2 billion a month in 2017.
JPMorgan’s centers in the region include its Wilmington credit card and consumer loan operations, built partly around Philadelphia investor and potential presidential candidate Richard Vague’s former First USA Bank; the 2,000-staffer tech center, built at a former AstraZeneca R&D center; plus investment, tax shelter, global account compliance, and other units around Wilmington and Newark, Del. The bank will hire add hundreds of staff, starting at $16.50 an hour (plus health care, retirement, and college tuition benefits) as it adds branches here over the next five years.
JPMorgan’s New York rival, Citigroup, spent millions building a Philly-area network of 20 branches — from a new site in King of Prussia to one in a former sex-aids shop across from the Convention Center — before shutting them in 2013, calling the market unprofitable.
But “customers tell us they want branches,” says Thasunda Duckett, head of JPMorgan Chase’s consumer banking group. People in their 30s visit banks about once a month, vs. once in three weeks for older people, she said.
JPMorgan says it’s “investing in” poorer neighborhoods, too. Besides the Camden branch (Citi had one in Germantown), the JPMorgan Chase Foundation has committed $5 million over the next three years for “mixed-use” apartment and business projects in Kensington.
Rival Citizens is counting on longstanding commitments to education, arts, and community-lending groups to help keep its civic credibility strong, said Van Saun.
JPMorgan’s goals for the Philadelphia area include recruiting more software and engineering talent. A bank, managers like to say, is more and more a technology company. Already a major employer of recent University of Delaware graduates, the bank sought to raise its profile and inspire the troops last September with a Silicon Valley-style tech show in the cavernous Chase USA convention hall on Wilmington’s waterfront, showcasing its own engineers and their projects.
Delaware has been a fin-tech R&D center for JPMorgan since around the time of its First USA acquisition in the late 1990s, said bank software architects Howard Spector and Craig Mullaney. Projects that Wilmington teams have worked on include the speeded-up wireless electronic code recognition that eventually became instant highway tolling services, improved RFID retail tag reading (one engineer tested upgrades with a Thomas the Tank Engine electric train set in his Wilmington office), and cooperation with Apple, Samsung, and other smartphone developers over banking apps.
Those talks were so secret that Spector and Mullaney had to take calls in remote parking lots, and would disappear to California for days without telling their families what they were up to. The tech center, opened in 2015, has secure rooms and systems that make such old-fashioned spycraft obsolete.
Intellectual property has become a “strong driver” in bank tech development, said Spector. “There are people here who have a large number of issued patents."