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Insurance policies pertaining to bankers’ suicides classified as containing ‘trade secrets’

Published time: April 29, 2014 19:09
AFP Photo / John Moore

AFP Photo / John Moore

After a recent rash of mysterious apparent suicides shook the financial world, researchers are scrambling to find answers about what really is the reason behind these multiple deaths. Some observers have now come to a rather shocking conclusion.

Wall Street on Parade bloggers Pam and Russ Martens wrote this week that something seems awry regarding the bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) policies held by JPMorgan Chase. Traditional life insurance policies ensure that the loved ones of the deceased are compensated fairly in the event of a death, but banks are investing billions in policies that let them receive untaxed payment with the passing of each employee. While it’s not unusual for major banks to take out policies that compensate companies in the event of an employee death, the Martens wrote, attempts to find out more about that practice have been peculiarly hard and have raised a red flag among bloggers like those at Wall Street on Parade.

Four of the biggest banks on Wall Street combined hold over $680 billion in BOLI policies, the bloggers reported, but JPMorgan held around $17.9 billion in BOLI assets at the end of last year to Citigroup’s comparably meager $8.8 billion.

Both banks are global financial institutions with commercial and investment banking operations, the Martens wrote, and each employs close to a quarter-of-a-million employees. Nevertheless, they say that JPMorgan has experienced a far greater rate of suicide among employees in recent months, particularly in the midst of a series of news reports documenting unusual leaps off buildings and other bizarre deaths that have taken the lives of JPMorgan staffers.

“Wall Street on Parade carefully researched public death announcements over the past 12 months which named the decedent as a current or former employee of Citigroup or its commercial banking unit, Citibank,” the Martens wrote on Tuesday. “We found no data suggesting Citigroup was experiencing the same rash of deaths of young men in their 30s as JPMorgan Chase. Nor did we discover any press reports of leaps from buildings among Citigroup’s workers.”

Shocked by the comparably greater amount of BOLI assets held by JPMorgan as opposed to Citibank, the Martens wrote that they filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see if more could be revealed about the life insurance policies being bought in the billions. This week, the bloggers said they struck an unusual roadblock.

The March 21 letter from Wall Street on Parade to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency asked for the agency to provide:

“The number of deaths from 2008 through March 21, 2014 on which JPMorgan Chase collected death benefits; the total face amount of BOLI life insurance in force at JPMorgan; the total number of former and current employees of JPMorgan Chase who are insured under these policies; any peer studies showing the same data comparing JPMorgan Chase with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.”

Last week, however, the OCC replied with a response that made the Martens even more curious. This week, the Martens published the April 18-dated response that acknowledges documents relevant to their request are being withheld because the files are “privileged or contains trade secrets, or commercial or financial information, furnished in confidence, that relates to the business, personal or financial affairs of any person,” and “related to an examination, operating or condition report prepared by, or on behalf of, or for the use of the OCC or any other agency responsible for regulating or supervising financial institutions.”

The ironic reality is that the documents do not pertain to the personal financial affairs of individuals who have a privacy right,” the Marten blogged back. “Individuals are not going to receive the proceeds of this life insurance for the most part. In many cases, they do not even know that multi-million dollar policies that pay upon their death have been taken out by their employer or former employer.”

Equally important, JPMorgan is a publicly traded company whose shareholders have a right under securities laws to understand the quality of its earnings – are those earnings coming from traditional banking and investment banking operations or is this ghoulish practice of profiting from the death of workers now a major contributor to profits on Wall Street?” the bloggers asked.

As RT reported last month, 28-year-old Kenneth Bellando of New York City became the twelfth person in the banking sector this year to commit suicide. Among those dozen casualties are no fewer than six people — including Bellando — who worked at JPMorgan either during or before the time of their death.

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