[Marxism] [SUSPICIOUS MESSAGE] This Is What Racism Sounds Like in the Banking Industry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 15 07:16:07 MST 2019

(Chase CEO Jamie Dimon responded to this article in an open letter; 

NY Times, Dec. 14, 2019
This Is What Racism Sounds Like in the Banking Industry
By Emily Flitter

Jimmy Kennedy earned $13 million during his nine-year career as a player 
in the National Football League. He was the kind of person most banks 
would be happy to have as a client.

But when Mr. Kennedy tried to become a “private client” at JPMorgan 
Chase, an elite designation that would earn him travel discounts, 
exclusive event invitations and better deals on loans, he kept getting 
the runaround.

At first, he didn’t understand why. Then, last fall, he showed up at his 
local JPMorgan branch in Arizona, and an employee offered an explanation.

“You’re bigger than the average person, period. And you’re also an 
African-American,” the employee, Charles Belton, who is black, told Mr. 
Kennedy. “We’re in Arizona. I don’t have to tell you about what the 
demographics are in Arizona. They don’t see people like you a lot.” Mr. 
Kennedy recorded the conversation and shared it with The New York Times.

It’s no secret that racism has been baked into the American banking 
system. There are few black executives in the upper echelons of most 
financial institutions. Leading banks have recently paid restitution to 
black employees for isolating them from white peers, placing them in the 
poorest branches and cutting them off from career opportunities. Black 
customers are sometimes profiled, viewed with suspicion just for 
entering a bank and questioned over the most basic transactions.

This year, researchers for the National Bureau of Economic Research 
found that black mortgage borrowers were charged higher interest rates 
than white borrowers and were denied mortgages that would have been 
approved for white applicants.

Banks, including JPMorgan, say they are committed to eradicating the 
legacy of racism. And they insist that any lingering side effects simply 
reflect stubborn socioeconomic imbalances in society as a whole, not 
racial bias among their employees.

What recently transpired inside a cluster of JPMorgan branches in the 
Phoenix area suggests that is not true.

Mr. Kennedy was told he was essentially too black. His financial 
adviser, Ricardo Peters, complained that he, too, was a victim of racial 
discrimination. What makes their cases extraordinary is not that the two 
men say they faced discrimination. It is that they recorded their 
interactions with bank employees, preserving a record of what white 
executives otherwise might have dismissed as figments of the aggrieved 
parties’ imaginations.

Patricia Wexler, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, defended the bank’s overall 
treatment of Mr. Peters and Mr. Kennedy. She said that the bank hadn’t 
been aware of all of the audio recordings and that “in light of some new 
information brought to us by The New York Times,” the company put one of 
its executive directors on administrative leave while the bank 
investigates his conduct.

The Back of the Branch

Mr. Peters started his career at JPMorgan as a salesman in the bank’s 
credit cards division. After about eight years in various roles, he was 
promoted to a financial adviser position in Phoenix in 2016. His job was 
to help bank customers prudently invest their money.

Mr. Peters had won numerous performance awards at the bank, but things 
soon started going wrong for him.

He was working in a JPMorgan branch in the affluent Sun City West area 
of Phoenix. He sought a promotion to become a private client adviser, a 
job that would have let him work with wealthier and more lucrative clients.

The promotion never came. Instead, Mr. Peters was moved out of an office 
at the heart of the branch where he worked with other financial advisers 
and was relegated to a windowless room in the back.

In April 2017, one of his bosses, Frank Venniro, told Mr. Peters that 
another manager had accused him of taking customers’ files home at 
night, a violation of the bank’s code of conduct. Mr. Peters denied it, 
and Mr. Venniro accepted that he was telling the truth, according to a 
recording of the conversation. But, he added, Mr. Peters needed to be 
more cognizant of how his colleagues perceived him.

Mr. Peters was left with the impression that his managers, who were 
white, were predisposed to view him suspiciously. Could he prove it? No. 
What happened next was clearer.

Mr. Peters complained to Mr. Venniro that another financial adviser was 
trying to steal a prospective client: a woman who had just received a 
$372,000 wrongful death settlement after her son died. She was black.

Mr. Venniro told Mr. Peters that there was no point in his intervening 
in the dispute, because the woman was not a worthwhile client. “You’ve 
got somebody who’s coming from Section 8, never had a nickel to spend, 
and now she’s got $400,000,” Mr. Venniro said, referring to the federal 
program that provides vouchers to help with housing costs and whose 
title is sometimes used as a racial slur. “What do you think’s going to 
happen with that money? It’s gone.”

“But I thought that’s why we get involved,” Mr. Peters protested.

Mr. Venniro said no. “You’re not investing a dime for this lady,” he 
said. He knew from experience that she would quickly burn through the 
money. “It happens every single time.”

When Mr. Peters tried to argue, Mr. Venniro interjected. “This is not 
money she respects,” he said. “She didn’t earn it.”

Ms. Wexler, the bank spokeswoman, said that Mr. Venniro was put on leave 
after inquiries from The Times and that he resigned last Thursday. “Our 
employee used extraordinarily bad judgment and was wrong to suggest we 
couldn’t help a customer,” she said. She said Mr. Venniro knew the 
client was in subsidized housing but didn’t know her race.

Marching Orders

In February 2018, Mr. Peters was transferred from the Sun City West 
branch to a JPMorgan branch in a less wealthy neighborhood. He perceived 
it as another example of managers, including Mr. Venniro, mistreating 
him because he was black.

One day, Mr. Peters met Mr. Kennedy, then 38. Mr. Kennedy had played for 
five N.F.L. teams as a defensive tackle. In 2011, he had joined the New 
York Giants — a homecoming that, The Times wrote at the time, was 
notable because of his impoverished childhood in Yonkers, N.Y. That 
season, Mr. Kennedy and the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Mr. Kennedy retired and later moved to Phoenix. JPMorgan bankers had 
been courting his business, but he hadn’t liked the financial advisers 
the bank had proposed to manage his investments. Then he met Mr. Peters. 
“The chemistry was just so real because he knew exactly what I needed to 
do,” Mr. Kennedy said in an interview.

In the summer of 2018, Mr. Kennedy gradually moved $800,000 to the bank. 
Mr. Peters and a colleague promised he would get “private client” 
status, which was reserved for accounts with more than $250,000.

Landing a wealthy client like Mr. Kennedy was a big win for Mr. Peters, 
but he was anxious about being targeted by his superiors. On Aug. 24, he 
filed a formal complaint with the bank. He said he had alerted Mr. 
Venniro “that I feel that I am being treated differently because of my 
race and color of my skin” and that Mr. Venniro had suggested that the 
solution was for him to work in the less-wealthy branch.

Less than two weeks later, JPMorgan agreed to pay $24 million to end a 
class-action lawsuit brought by other black employees who said the 
company had discriminated against them — in some cases by isolating them 
from colleagues and dumping them in poorer branches.

On Oct. 5, Mr. Venniro took Mr. Peters to a meeting room and said he was 
being fired. Mr. Venniro said he didn’t know why. “I’m just given 
marching orders,” Mr. Venniro told him, according to a recording of the 

Mr. Peters filed a discrimination claim with the federal Equal 
Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of the 
Arizona attorney general’s office, accusing JPMorgan of racial 
discrimination. JPMorgan denied that and said Mr. Peters was fired for 
improperly assigning credit for a new client to an employee who managers 
didn’t think deserved it.

“We stand by our decision to terminate Peters,” Ms. Wexler, the 
spokeswoman, said. “The facts are indisputable.”

Mr. Peters disputed the facts. He said that he had given credit to the 
correct employee. He said the bank was using a mundane internal dispute 
as an excuse to fire him. He has since started his own investment 
advisory firm in Arizona.

‘If This Dude Gets Upset’

Mr. Peters’s termination left Mr. Kennedy in the lurch. A number of his 
transactions were frozen or not carried out. In one case, $92,000 of Mr. 
Kennedy’s money that was supposed to go into a new investment product 
ended up in a holding account, inaccessible to Mr. Kennedy. (Ms. Wexler 
said the problems were caused by administrative errors.)

JPMorgan assigned him a new financial adviser, Mr. Belton. He struck Mr. 
Kennedy as inexperienced. He was black, and Mr. Kennedy felt that was 
the only reason they’d been paired. Mr. Kennedy said he began recording 
their conversations so he could get feedback from other people about Mr. 
Belton’s financial recommendations.

Mr. Kennedy had been under the impression that he had been granted the 
coveted “private client” status that Mr. Peters had promised. When Mr. 
Kennedy learned that was not the case, he complained to Mr. Belton — and 
then to Mr. Venniro.

Mr. Belton warned Mr. Kennedy not to talk to Mr. Venniro again. In two 
secretly recorded conversations in October last year, he asked Mr. 
Kennedy to think about the impression he left on people at the bank. He 
pointed out that Mr. Kennedy was a big black man in Arizona. And he said 
that Mr. Venniro had been afraid to tell Mr. Kennedy that his 
application to become a private client had been deleted when Mr. Peters 
was fired.

A few days later, Mr. Kennedy went back to the branch, and the 
conversation returned to the question of why the bank refused to grant 
Mr. Kennedy the status and perks of being a private client.

Mr. Belton said that bank employees were scared of dealing with him and 
that therefore Mr. Kennedy would be better off interacting only with Mr. 

“They’re not going to say this, but I don’t have the same level of 
intimidation that they have — you know what I’m saying? — not only being 
a former athlete but also being two black men,” Mr. Belton said. 
Referring to Mr. Venniro, he added, “You sit in front of him, you’re 
like three times his size — you feel what I’m saying? — he already 
probably has his perception of how these interactions could go.”

Moments later, he said: “We’ve seen people that are not of your stature 
get irate, and it’s like, ‘Well, if this dude gets upset, like what’s 
going to happen to me?’”

Mr. Kennedy asked if Mr. Belton was saying that Mr. Venniro was racist. 
“I don’t think any person at that level is dumb enough for it to be that 
blatant,” Mr. Belton replied. “I don’t have any reason to believe 
blatantly that he’s that way. You feel what I’m saying? Now, whether 
there’s some covert action? To be honest? I always err on the side of 
thinking that. You know, people that are not us probably have some form 
of prejudice toward us.”

Mr. Kennedy pulled most of his money out of JPMorgan and filed a 
grievance with an industry watchdog, and in June the bank sent him a 
letter trying to put an end to his complaining.

“You stated that Mr. Belton informed you that our firm was prejudiced 
against you and intimidated by you because of your race,” the letter 
said. “We found no evidence to substantiate your allegations.”

Correction: Dec. 11, 2019
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized comments by a 
JPMorgan spokeswoman about the bank's handling of accusations from a 
customer and an employee. She defended the overall treatment of Mr. 
Peters and Mr. Kennedy; she did not deny that the bank had discriminated 
against them.

Emily Flitter covers banking and Wall Street. Before joining The Times 
in 2017, she spent eight years at Reuters, writing about politics, 
financial crimes and the environment. @FlitterOnFraud

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