The probability of two vibrant young men in their 30s who are employed by the same global bank but separated by an ocean dying within six days of each other is remote. And few companies are in as good a position to understand just how remote as is JPMorgan: since 2010, it has received four patents on quantifying longevity risks and structuring wagers via death derivatives.
The two deaths at JPMorgan remain unexplained. Gabriel Magee, a 39-year old technology Vice President was found dead on the 9th level rooftop of JPMorgan’s European headquarters at 25 Bank Street in the Canary Wharf section of London on January 28 of this year. A London coroner’s inquest is scheduled for May 15 to determine the cause of death. Six days later, Ryan Crane, a 37-year old Executive Director involved in trading at JPMorgan’s New York office was found dead at his Stamford, Connecticut home. Wall Street On Parade spoke with the Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Connecticut and was told the cause of death is “pending,” with final results expected in a few weeks.
Magee’s death was originally reported by London newspapers as a jump from the 33rd level rooftop of JPMorgan’s building with the strong implication that eyewitnesses had observed the jump. The London Evening Standard tweeted: “Bankers watch JP Morgan IT exec fall to his death from roof of London HQ,” which then linked to their article which said in its opening sentence that “A man plunged to his death from a Canary Wharf tower in front of thousands of horrified commuters today.”
When Wall Street On Parade contacted the Metropolitan Police in London a few days later, there was no assurance that even one eyewitness was on record as having seen Magee jump from the building.
Crane’s death is equally problematic. The death occurred on February 3 but the first major media to report it was Bloomberg News on February 13, ten days after the fact, and making no mention of Magee’s unexplained death just six days prior.
According to information available at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, JPMorgan created the LifeMetrics Index in March 2007 as an “international index designed to benchmark and trade longevity risk.” The index was said to enable pension plans to hedge the risk of payments to retirees and incorporated “historical and current statistics on mortality rates and life expectancy, across genders, ages, and nationalities.” From 2010 through 2013, JPMorgan has received patent approval on four longevity related patents.
Reuters reported on August 26, 2013 that the long-term longevity bets taken on by the big banks have now started to cause pain as international capital rules known as Basel III require more capital to be set aside for longer-dated positions. The article noted that “JPMorgan likely has the biggest holdings of long-dated swaps because it is the biggest swaps trader on Wall Street, responsible for about 30 percent of the market by some measures, traders at rival firms said.”
One extremely long longevity bet taken on by JPMorgan was reported by Insurance Risk on October 1, 2008. According to the publication, JPMorgan entered into a 40-year Ł500 million notional longevity swap with Canada Life whereby Canada Life would make a fixed annual payment in return for a floating liability-matching payment that would increase if the annuitants lived longer than expected. JPMorgan was believed to have passed on some of the risk to hedge fund investors but retained the counterparty risk. Because many of these deals are private, the full extent of JPMorgan’s exposure in this area is not known.
Wall Street veterans have also commented on the fact that JPMorgan may actually stand to profit from the early deaths of the two young men in their 30s. As we reported in March of last year, when the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released its report on JPMorgan’s high risk bets known as the London Whale debacle, its Exhibit 81 showed that JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office was also overseeing Bank Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) and Corporate Owned Life Insurance (COLI) plans which allow the corporation to reap huge tax benefits by taking out life insurance policies on workers – even low wage workers – and naming the corporation the beneficiary of the death benefit. Both the buildup in the policy and the benefit at death are received tax free to the corporation.
According to the exhibit, the Chief Investment Office was tasked with “Maximization of tax-advantaged investments of life insurance premiums” for the BOLI/COLI plans. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, JPMorgan had $12 billion in BOLI, noting that a JPMorgan spokesperson had confirmed the figure. Other insurance industry experts put the total for both BOLI and COLI at JPMorgan significantly higher.
In September of last year, Risk Magazine reported that the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the International Organization of Securities Commissions and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors had published a report in August warning regulators that longevity swaps may expose banks to longevity tail risk – meaning, for example, that actual death rates in a given portfolio may vary dramatically from a large population index.
One advisor is quoted as follows in the article: “You can see from the position paper that this market has a lot of characteristics that regulators don’t like in terms of banks getting involved in it. It’s based on long-dated risks, upfront payments and a serious element of hubris in assuming that the banks can model these risks better than the people who originated them. It’s potentially a market big enough to cause serious problems if it caught on and went wrong.”
That things are starting to go seriously wrong was evident in a Bloomberg News report that emerged last Friday. AIG reported that it was taking a $971 million impairment charge before taxes for 2013 on its holdings of life settlement contracts because people were living longer than expected. AIG is the company that was bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer to the tune of $182 billion during the financial crisis because of bets gone wrong.