JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and the Financial Crisis of 2008

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Lauren Berkshire Hearit of Hope College. Dr. Hearit recently published an article in International Journal of Business Communication entitled “JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and the Financial Crisis of 2008,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Hearit reveals the inspiration for conducting this research :]

JBC_53_2_Covers.inddIn 2010, I participated in a public policy seminar focused on the 2008 Financial Crisis that sought to understand and untangle the policies that led the global economic crisis. Starting a research interest that continues to drive me to this day, I took a deep dive in to the area, reading every new book that attempted to explain the multiple causes of the crisis. In 2013, I came across an article from The Wall Street Journal that reported that the number of banks nationwide had fallen below 7,000 – for the first time since federal regulators began tracking these numbers in 1934. This raised a number of questions: “how did these banks do this? How are they bigger than ever?” As I investigated how almost every major Wall Street bank avoided bankruptcy and increased in size, I found an integrative approach to economic policy communication was a valuable informative lens by which to study the choices made by these banks. By and large, these banks used discourse to respond to public pressure by talking publicly about their individual performance and robust strength following the financial crisis—while simultaneously using discourse privately in an effort to influence and avoid increased regulation and policy.

In my article, I use discourse analysis to examine how JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo utilized language following the Financial Crisis as a corporate resource in the same way they use personnel, capital and technology. I examine each bank’s news releases, annual reports, and annual letter to shareholders from 2009 and compare what each bank communicated to how it was covered in the mainstream news media. I ultimately argue the discourse of finance privileges the upper-class and wealthy—and is designed to minimize the role of the middle and working classes from participation in public policy decision-making. As they tailored their post-crisis discourse to focus on bank strength and stability, these major Wall Street banks utilized a terminology (e.g., mortgage-backed securities, subprime mortgages, derivatives trading, etc.) that made participation in the crisis resolution difficult, choosing language that was largely inaccessible to the public. The public largely had little choice but to accept these banks’ actions, despite the negative ramifications and impact on the global economy, as the banks crafted a discourse-based response that ignored the complexity of the discussion, policy changes, and regulation required to prevent another financial crisis.

This article seeks to spur future study on strategic financial and economic communication. Work at the intersection of public policy, economics, and strategic communication has begun to examine this area of interdisciplinary research, but scholars need to do more to bridge work from these different disciplines, using multiple methods, in order to examine the impact of economic policy communication on organizational financial performance, the economy, and crises.

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