Wall Streeters shuddered as the news broke last year that U.S. regulators were examining whether bank employees were using personal phones to text about business with each other and clients, a rule that just about everyone seemed to be breaking.
Yet for those quietly worrying, there’s a silver lining emerging: It doesn’t appear to be a career killer.
Shortly after being ousted over the scrutiny, a trio of executives from JPMorgan Chase & Co., the first bank hammered by authorities in the widening probe, landed new jobs in the industry. The firm itself paid $200 million in fines for its surveillance lapses.
Ben Sykes, an executive director who left last year, landed at competitor Jefferies Financial Group Inc. in September, according to records filed with brokerage regulators. Earl Dowling, a former managing director who people familiar with the matter say was also was pushed out, started this month at investment banking boutique PJT Partners Inc.
And that’s after senior credit trader Ed Koo, an early casualty of JPMorgan’s efforts to clamp down on unauthorized texting, landed a new role at a smaller firm in mid-2020, not long after he left JPMorgan. He’s now a portfolio manager at Brean Asset Management.
The landings may provide at least a little comfort to Wall Streeters as the U.S. probe expands to examine whether more firms broke recordkeeping requirements designed to protect investors. When punishing JPMorgan, federal investigators expressed particular ire with managers who were supposed to help head off texting outside official channels, but instead engaged in it themselves. That focus raises the odds that employees at other companies will get pushed out as inquiries proceed.
The new gigs also come as Wall Street leaders have been complaining about how hard it is to attract and retain experienced staff, in what many are calling a “war for talent.” It’s not the worst time to be job hunting.
“These people were able to find alternative employment because presumably they have skills and are good at what they’re able to do,” said Adam Pritchard, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “JPMorgan probably had to fire some people to show that they were serious. So you can see how a subsequent employer would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a regulatory violation, but you weren’t stealing from your customers.’”
The ubiquity of private texting has become something of an open secret at banks in recent years. As mobile messaging apps proliferated, many Wall Streeters took to using them as a quick way to ping a colleague or client, or a discreet way to make offhand comments without bosses seeing. The use of such platforms became all the more common when the Covid-19 pandemic forced legions of employees to work from home in early 2020.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has required securities firms to archive written communications since the 1930s. Last month, it accused JPMorgan of failing to meet its obligations from early 2018 through late 2020 as employees sent messages by text, WhatsApp and personal email accounts. While the agency said that hindered its other inquiries, it stopped short of accusing the firm of using those unauthorized platforms to cheat clients or engage in wrongdoing.
That’s key for employers. Executives at Jefferies and PJT were aware that Sykes and Dowling had been swept up in the messaging probe last year, and hired them after due diligence, according to people with knowledge matter.
Spokespeople for those firms, Brean Asset Management and JPMorgan declined to comment on the personnel decisions. The three executives or their representatives also had no comment.
The bank settled with the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, admitting to lapses. Authorities haven’t sanctioned any individuals.
JPMorgan ousted only a few executives over the inquiries, but it disciplined many others, sometimes lowering their bonuses. The SEC also warned that it’s opened additional inquiries into other financial firms. The early reaction from JPMorgan’s competitors suggest that those who get punished might still find a second chance elsewhere.
To be sure, ousters can leave a lasting mark on brokerage-industry personnel records, available on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck service.
Sykes’s file there shows he was “terminated for violating the firm’s communication policy by moving several internal business communications from a surveilled approved electronic communication channel to an unapproved electronic communication channel, and for the inappropriate content of certain communications.”
Koo’s records say he “used a third-party social media application for internal business communications.” It adds that there was “no known customer harm.”
Dowling’s BrokerCheck report currently shows only that he left JPMorgan and joined PJT.
Hannah Levitt, Gillian Tan and Liana Baker report for Bloomberg News.
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