JPMorgan doubles down on UK retail bank Chase



By Iain Withers

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Wall Street giant JPMorgan JPM.N is planning to double the size of its workforce at fledgling British retail bank Chase to at least 2,000 within two years, the CEO of the venture told Reuters, despite losses and some investor scepticism.

JPMorgan said it had attracted one million customers and more than 10 billion pounds ($10.8 billion) of deposits to its UK mobile app bank since its launch last September.

It's a template the bank wants to replicate in other international markets - despite an intensifying cost of living crisis that has soured the outlook for retail banks globally.

Britain in particular has been gripped by a crisis of investor confidence after finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng sent the pound and government bonds into freefall on Friday with a fiscal plan that unnerved markets.

"We want to be international, starting with the UK," Sanjiv Somani, UK chief executive of Chase, said in an interview at the bank's UK headquarters in Canary Wharf in London on Friday.

"You have to look at a ten-year view. If you look at anything shorter it will not lead to the right conclusion ... The retail banking revenue pool is in the trillions, even outside the U.S."

He declined to say where Chase might launch next. Reuters reported this month JPMorgan is hiring retail bankers in Germany ahead of a potential launch there.

Chase already has 1,000 staff in Britain - out of a total 19,000 JPMorgan employees in the country - and Somani says this number will "at least double" by the end of 2024.

The venture will expand from current and savings accounts by rolling out lending products - likely starting with a credit card - by the end of 2023, Somani said.

JPMorgan will also look to integrate its investments business Nutmeg - which it bought for around 700 million pounds last year - into Chase over that timeframe, he added.

Somani started his career in retail banking in India helping Citi launch a much simpler version of a 'digital bank' - one that would text you your bank balance.

"The idea is in the medium term we want to be a full service bank," he said of Chase, adding it had no immediate plans to roll out branches.

INVESTOR CONCERNS

The venture's rapid growth has come at a hefty price tag - albeit one the world's largest bank can easily absorb.

JPMorgan disclosed at its investor day in May that it expected to lose $450 million on the venture in 2022 and outlined cumulative losses north of $1 billion over several years, before projecting it would break even in 2027-28.

Somani said the May investor day projections still held, but that revenues generated from lending and expansion of Nutmeg's fee-based services would ultimately put it in the black.

Investors have expressed concern about a lack of detail on JPMorgan's digital investments and about their uncertain prospects, adding to pressure on the international consumer arm to succeed.

"History is against JPMorgan's attempt to build a digital online bank in the UK and elsewhere," said Mike Mayo, a banking analyst at Wells Fargo, though he added JPMorgan's U.S. digital expertise and deep pockets could make the difference.

The UK market has seen many aborted attempts to challenge the dominance of its main high street banks - which include Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest. Germany's N26 quit the country after just two years, while Citi axed its UK retail bank last week.

Chase also faces stiff competition from both local digital brands like Monzo and those offered by large institutions such as Goldman Sachs' savings bank Marcus. Marcus grew at a similar pace to Chase early on, amassing 13 billion pounds of deposits in Britain in its first 17 months.

Somani said JPMorgan's backing nonetheless gave Chase an edge.

"We're the best-funded fintech in the world," he said.

($1 = 0.9235 pounds)
Reporting by Iain Withers Editing by Mark Potter

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