These days, your friendly Chase banker has good reason to be friendly: It pays.
Retail bankers at
J.P. Morgan Chase
, the nation's second-largest lender, are eligible to receive cash bonuses for getting customers to take out a new home loan, upgrade their checking accounts or buy a certificate of deposit.
"The size of your paycheck will be determined by your daily commitment to proactively meeting customer needs!" reads a new sales incentive plan distributed to 5,324 personal bankers at Chase's 2,300 branches in 17 states.
A copy of the missive, obtained by
, is more evidence of how Jamie Dimon, the bank's president and CEO-in-waiting, is starting to put his imprint on J.P. Morgan, following the completion of last year's merger with
. The incentive plan is modeled after one Dimon used at Bank One to bolster the Chicago lender's retail franchise.
"It's very similar to what Bank One was doing before,'' said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for J.P. Morgan's retail banking group.
Offering sales incentives to retail bankers, who earn a modest salary compared with investment bankers, is not unusual. The typical retail banker at J.P. Morgan earns between $50,000 and $70,000 a year, as opposed to the seven-figure paychecks that most corporate dealmakers earn. Many retail bankers come to count on incentives or commissions to boost their take-home pay.
But the incentive program at J.P. Morgan is strikingly ambitious and complex and sheds light on the bank's strategy for cross-selling products.
Bankers become eligible for a bonus if they accumulate a sufficient number of points, or "product value credits,'' each month. The more lucrative the banking product, the more points a banker receives.
A new savings account with a balance of $1,000 or more is worth 10 points. A consumer loan earns a banker one point for every $1,000 borrowed.
Not only are J.P. Morgan bankers eligible for monthly bonuses, they also can earn quarterly and year-end bonuses if the branch they work for achieves certain profitability targets. The decision to award quarterly and annual bonuses is made by individual branch managers, who have "an incentive pool of dollars'' to dole out to top-performing bankers.
J.P. Morgan maintains a "retail sales tracking team'' hotline that bankers can call to see how their branch fared compared with others.
"We are a retailer just like
,'' said Kelly. "Every retailer provides incentives to their employees to do a good job."
But in other areas of the financial world, regulators have begun taking a dim view of sales contests and incentive deals. Regulators contend that some incentive plans encourage brokers and sales people to put their own financial interests ahead of their customers'.
Securities and Exchange Commission
, for instance, have been cracking down on sales incentives to brokers to peddle inferior mutual funds. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, meanwhile, has led a crackdown on commissions in the insurance industry that encourage brokers to direct customers to a specific insurer at the exclusion of others.
Kelly, however, said the incentive program at J.P. Morgan is different because the bank doesn't sell competing products in its consumer division, as is usually the case when banks sell mutual funds. He said a consumer who doesn't like the rate on a J.P. Morgan loan can simply shop around for a better one.
Indeed, the incentive plan cautions bankers that "participation in an incentive plan should never take priority over ethically providing for the needs of your customers.''
Michael Stead, portfolio manager for River Aire Investment, a small hedge fund that invests mainly in financial stocks, says there's nothing inherently wrong with incentive plans. The financial services industry is based on selling as many different products to consumers as possible. It only becomes an issue when selling takes priority over the customer's interest.
"The problem is when you push products that aren't in the best interest of the client,'' said Stead, who has no position in J.P. Morgan shares.