JPMorgan’s experimental investment in Detroit was so successful that it’s decided to invest $500 million in up-and-coming cities

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon originated the idea for investing heavily in Detroit, and wanted to build upon lessons learned there. Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • JPMorgan Chase launched AdvancingCities, a $US500-million, five-year initiative for investing in emerging cities around the world.
  • It is an outgrowth of the multi-million dollar investments in Detroit, Chicago, and DC that began in 2014.
  • Up to half of the allocated money will be used for low-cost loans, with the rest used for philanthropic purposes.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

JPMorgan Chase announced Wednesday that it is now accepting applications to participate in its new $US500 million AdvancingCities initiative, which will invest in cities that are overcoming years of hardship.

It’s a major expansion of a plan that began in 2013, when JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon pushed for a way to help Detroit after it declared bankruptcy. Starting the next year, it began closely working with Mayor Mike Duggan in distributing low-cost loans, renovating affordable housing, and training workforces. Since 2014, the bank has invested more than $US100 million into the city.

Following success in Detroit, the bank then began investing in a similar way in Chicago and Washington, DC, and expanded the Entrepreneurs of Colour Fund from Detroit to Chicago, the South Bronx, and San Francisco. The AdvancingCities competition is a way to bring learnings from these prior experiences to a new set of cities.

“I think the biggest thing that we have concluded is that the only places that we can be really effective in is where you have real collaboration on the ground with the political leadership, the private sector, the nonprofit sector,” JPMorgan’s head of corporate responsibility, Peter Scher, told Business Insider.

The $US500 million will be split between low-cost loans offered through the AdvancingCities Investment Fund, and philanthropic spending.

Investments work best when partners identify opportunity

Scher explained that Detroit has been an ideal case study for the new initiative, and that it only took off once JPMorgan started responding to specific requests from partners. “I think the Entrepreneurs of Colour is a great example,” Scher said, referring to the fund that offers loans to businesses owned by people of colour.

The JPMorgan team set up quarterly meetings with Mayor Duggan to discuss its investments, and in one meeting about a year in, Duggan said, “The problem I see in the city is there are a lot of black, Hispanic, Asian entrepreneurs who can’t get access to capital and want to start businesses.”

The bank then partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to respond to this. Scher said it demonstrated that his team had the capability to toss money around, but that to actually accomplish something it needed to have partners, like the city’s mayor, identify a challenge and then find a solution.

Duggan told us that, “Pretty much everything’s worked,” in regards to JPMorgan’s investments, noting that for both his city and others that will partner with the bank, “as long as you’re disciplined in what you’re doing, you can have a major impact.”

JPMorgan is looking to build long-term value for its shareholders

Scher said that over the next five years, data suggests that conservatively speaking, the $US250 million from the AdvancingCities investment fund will leverage a total of $US1 billion in spending when factoring in outside investment attracted by JPMorgan’s activity. He said the initiative can support “up to 30” cities, but that the number is less important than the potential for impact in a city, and that there will not be an equal portioning of investments to each winner.

AdvancingCities is overseen by Scher and his team, as well as an advisory council of former mayors and business leaders, and will utilise an estimated 200 JPMorgan executives working 3-4 week shifts in particular cities.

Scher told us that if the program were solely about building goodwill, there were plenty of easier options to pursue, and that he considers AdvancingCities to be a business investment. “I would argue to our shareholders that if the economy of Detroit or Chicago or Washington is growing, and more people are getting jobs and more businesses are being created and you’ve got small business growth, that’s a good long-term bet for JPMorgan Chase,” he said.

He continued: “And so I actually think that this is kind of a new way of thinking about business investments and thinking long-term about the viability of success of our communities. And our general view is that if the economies of these cities is growing, JPMorgan will grow with it.”

Manny Ocbazghi contributed reporting.