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JPMorgan Chase says more M&A could be on the horizon

JPMorgan Chase & Co. says it is interested in further acquisitions after executing a string of deals designed to add to its wealth management offerings, enhance the customer experience and position itself for a future marked by intensifying fintech competition.

In the past few months, JPMorgan Chase has announced deals ranging from a British robo-advisor to a timberland investment manager.

"Acquisitions are very much a thing that we're considering," CFO Jeremy Barnum said on a media call on third-quarter results.

The acquisitions fit into consistent themes, Barnum said on an analyst call — building a platform for expansion into retail markets overseas; enhancing environmental, social and governance and other offerings in asset and wealth management; and creating "integrated and holistic experiences" for consumers, an area that has included the purchase of a restaurant review company.

"We're not claiming that we have some overarching top-down acquisition strategy," Barnum said. "Broadly, we're just doing things that make sense."

Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said the financial impact of the deals is not significant and that the international retail initiative will not be material for years. "This is a 10-year game plan," he said. "This is a long-term work to try to get this thing right, because if we're ever going to be retail overseas, it's going to be digital."

However, executives said they were committed to making the needed expenditures to remain competitive. "We are competing with some very large, talented global players who are not even in banking today," Dimon said. "Some of these acquisitions are more around that than around just what I consider traditional banking."

Barnum addressed the rapidly growing area of "buy now, pay later," where the bank already offers installment payment plans for purchases customers have made on their cards, but not directly at the point of sale.

"It is funny how layaway is back in the e-commerce checkout lane," Barnum said. "Obviously, we're looking at it. Everyone's talking about it."

Barnum said that while the overall volume of BNPL transactions is still relatively low, it's risky to "convince yourself that it's kind of not a threat."

Dimon added that the potential challenge involves BNPL startups moving into more traditional banking products such as debit cards and cash accounts. "We will spend whatever we have to spend to compete with all these folks in our space," he said.

That has recently including heavy marketing spending in credit cards, which was reflected in an 8% sequential drop in card and auto revenues to $4.96 billion in the third quarter.

Card marketing is "a critical investment in this moment," Barnum said. "That is going to remain elevated and if anything, tick up a little bit as we look forward."

As the bank considers how to deploy its capital, Barnum said that organic growth, acquisitions and dividends will remain the bank's preferred uses, with share buybacks having a lower priority. JPMorgan Chase distributed about $8 billion of capital to shareholders through dividends and buybacks in the third quarter, compared with net income of $11.69 billion.

He said the new Federal Reserve stress test regime, where banks do not seek approval for an annual capital distribution plan but are instead free to pay dividends and repurchase shares as long as they stay clear of capital requirements, provides welcome flexibility.

The new system "makes us much less eager to telegraph what our plans are for share buybacks," he said. With the bank anticipating loan growth and acquisitions potentially on the horizon, "we really want to stay as nimble as possible when it comes to buybacks."