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Elizabeth Warren spars with JPMorgan Chase head Jamie Dimon on overdraft fees

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Washington — Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, went head-to-head Wednesday with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon over overdraft fees charged to customers during the coronavirus pandemic, calling him the "star of the overdraft show" and accusing the top officials from nation's biggest banks of prioritizing profits over struggling Americans.

In a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee, Warren pressed the chief executives of Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo on why they didn't waive overdraft fees for customers last year when they were offered their own protections from the Federal Reserve during the pandemic.

In 2020, she said account-holders at the four banks paid a combined $4 billion in overdraft fees, with people making under $50,000, African Americans and Hispanics most likely to be hit with the penalties, according to a 2016 analysis from Pew Charitable Trusts.

"Over the past year, you could've passed on the breaks that you got from the Fed to your customers, but you didn't do it," Warren told the CEOs. "No matter how you try to spin it, this past year has shown that corporate profits are more important to your bank than offering just a little help to struggling families, even when we are in the middle of a worldwide crisis."

Dimon, however, told Warren he believes her numbers are "totally inaccurate," and said JPMorgan Chase waived fees for customers upon request if they were under financial strain because of the pandemic.

"You're the star of the overdraft show," Warren told Dimon. "Your bank, JP Morgan, collects more than seven times as much money in overdraft fees per account than your competitors."

A spokesperson for the bank disputed the senator's claim of how much more it collects in fees.

Warren said JPMorgan Chase brought in $1.4 billion in overdraft fees in 2020 and said the bank still would have profited $27.6 billion if it declined to collect the fines.

"You and your colleagues come in today to talk about how you stepped up and took care of customers during a pandemic, and it's a bunch of baloney," she said. "In fact, it's about $4 billion worth of baloney. But you could fix that right now."

Warren asked Dimon if he would commit to refunding the $1.4 billion in overdraft fees to customers, though he said "no."

Dimon, who has led JPMorgan Chase since 2005, testified Wednesday alongside the CEOs of Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley for an oversight hearing, during which they touted their efforts responding to the pandemic. 

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio who chairs the Banking Committee, also went after Dimon over wealth inequality and executive compensation.

"How did we end up here where CEOs are making 900 times what some of their workers are making?" Brown asked.

Dimon said the starting wage at JP Morgan Chase is $35,000, and workers get medical and retirement benefits. 

"My compensation is set by the board, they look at multiple factors and that's how it takes place," he said.

JPMorgan Chase said in January that Dimon will be paid $31.5 million in 2020.

Republicans on the committee pressed the bank executives on their pushback to Georgia's controversial voting law, with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina asking which provisions of the sweeping measure restricted voting access. 

Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America, said his firm joined the statement against voting restrictions that ran in The New York Times and Washington Post after its employees expressed "grave concern" about the law.

"It seems like picking winners and losers in companies, and you're diving into choosing which laws you want to uphold and which laws you find offensive, but you can't articulate a position on why those things are offensive," Scott told the CEOs after none articulated the parts of Georgia's election reform law restricted voting rights. 

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