ATHENS – He’s hard-nosed and hard-driving, the second-highest paid banker on Wall Street at $34.5 million annually, the billionaire son of Greek immigrants who hasn’t forgotten his roots, so JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is investing in his homeland.
The opinionated banker came to the Greek capital to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose New Democracy government he lauds, to pay tribute to his parents and grandparents and said he’s optimistic about the country’s future despite the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
There was also business to talk about. Dimon and Mitsotakis speak the same language – banking – the Greek having worked as a financial analyst at the corporate division of Chase Bank in London and CEO of a private equity and venture capital subsidiary he founded, affiliated with the National Bank of Greece.
The two met after JPMorgan announced its investment for the acquisition of approximately 49 percent of the online bank Viva Wallet, which Dimon was surprised to learn is a Greek company when first told about it.
Government sources not named said that Dimon informed Mitsotakis that JPMorgan is willing to expand its office in Greece, invest further in Viva Wallet, and attract high-level staff in Greece.
“As you are aware, we have plans to expand over time, so this may become a technology hub for JPMorgan Chase throughout the world,” said Dimon, reported the newspaper Kathimerini.
Mitsotakis, who has been trying to lure foreign investors during the pandemic and succeeded in attracting major tech giants, said JP Morgan’s acquisition was a vote of confidence in Greece too and “reaffirms the new startup culture that has appeared in Greece.”
He added in speaking to Dimon: “What I can tell you is that the country has turned a page and that Greece in 2022 has very few similarities with Greece in the time of economic crisis. I think we have laid the foundations for long-term and sustainable growth and we want you to be part of this story, not just because of your Greek descent but because you truly see the opportunities that exist in the country.”
Those participating in the meeting included the head of the Prime Minister’s economic office Alexis Patelis, the head of JPMorgan Chase in Greece, Stelios Papadopoulos, and Global Head of Wholesale Payments Takis Georgakopoulos.
In an interview with the paper, Dimon referred to the Viva Wallet deal and said Greece is noted for having highly-skilled professionals making their mark in a number of sectors.
The further plans the bank has for Greece, he said, include creation of a hub for research and technology as Mitsotakis is trying to accelerate a slow recovery from the pandemic and an eight-year economic and austerity crisis before that.
Georgakopoulos told the newspaper in a separate interview that the hub will deal with three issues: cryptography, distributed ledger technology (DLT), artificial intelligence, and machine learning related to payment systems.
“These are three areas in which JP Morgan is a leader among banks,” he said. The hub will be created in 2022, once the company has found “the right person to set it up and run it.”
“This is something that changed with COVID: Any country that has talented, educated, creative people can build businesses that don’t have to be in the U.S. It can be far away – here let’s say. That’s something every country needs to keep in mind,” Dimon told the paper.
Georgakopoulos said choosing Greece for the installation of a hub, as well as the acquisition of Viva, was not influenced by his or Dimon’s descent.
“Finding scientists who have this specialization is difficult. Hiring such people in Silicon Valley is almost impossible. We have been thinking about Greece for two years.”
Before the pandemic hit, his government was speeding an economic recovery after the stagnation of 4 ½ years of rule by the former Radical Left SYRIZA which has a hard-core element resisting any foreign investment and capitalism.
Dimon the son of Theodore and Themis, with roots in Izmir – his paternal grandfather, who migrated to the United States at the start of the last century, changed the family name from Papademetriou to Dimon to make it sound French.
He said he was optimistic because Greece has “a rational government making rational decisions. The EU money helps. I think the EU did it the right way, they have set milestones to be accomplished in order to give the money – they don’t just hand it out.”
He said the bank decided to acquire a stake in Viva Wallet, which has a presence in 23 countries because “they have managed to serve stores or groups in different countries with different systems. While we are doing a good job, they have created systems that we still don’t have.”
Viva Wallet provides businesses of all sizes card acceptance services through the innovative Viva Wallet POS app, add-on Google Play devices, and through advanced payment gateways in online stores. It also offers business accounts with local IBAN and a business Viva Wallet Mastercard card.
Dimon said he didn’t know it was founded by Greeks: Haris Karonis, its CEO and Makis Antypas, the CIO, who developed the company that is the first in Europe to entirely use cloud-based neobanking through Microsoft Azure.
“Takis came to me and said: ‘You won’t believe it Jamie. We’re looking at a Greek company.’ I think it’s fabulous for Greece. It’s a great company, a unicorn (a company that has been valued at more than $1 billion.)”