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JPMorgan Chase Needs to Add This Product to Its Portfolio

By John Maxfield - May 31, 2016 at 5:30PM

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Believe it or not, the biggest and most sophisticated bank in the United States doesn't offer self-directed retirement accounts.

There's a missing piece in JPMorgan Chase's product portfolio. Image source: iStock/Thinkstock.

Last week, my wife and I were sitting in a JPMorgan Chase (JPM -2.20%) branch ready to give it our entire banking relationship. The reason we didn't go through with it is because JPMorgan Chase is missing a core financial product we can't live without.

We originally decided to switch banks for three reasons:

  • First, our current bank, which will go unnamed, had assessed fees on one of our accounts even though our cumulative account balances have long qualified us for fee-free products. To make matters worse, nobody we spoke to on the phone purported to have the authority to fix the issue.
  • Second, while the closest branch of our current bank is five miles away, there's a JPMorgan Chase branch within walking distance of our house. To further sweeten the pot, it's in the same shopping center as our favorite Thai restaurant.
  • And third, JPMorgan Chase consistently scores above our current bank when it comes to customer service surveys. We got a taste for why this is when it took nearly a dozen phone conversations with representatives of our current bank to get the fee refunded.

These are compelling reasons to switch, right? We thought so -- until we ran into an unexpected problem.

Given JPMorgan Chase isn't only the nation's biggest bank by assets, but also the one with the most robust Wall Street operations, we had assumed its investment products would be as good as, if not better than, the ones offered by our current bank.

To a certain extent, this may be true, but there is an important exception. While our current bank offers retirement accounts -- namely, individual retirement accounts, or IRAs -- that can be actively managed by the account holder, JPMorgan Chase's retirement account options are designed for passive investors.

This doesn't mean a person can't actively manage their own retirement account at JPMorgan Chase, but it does mean it will cost you a lot to do so. The trading commission for each transaction in a JPMorgan Chase retirement account is $26, one of its advisors told us. For an investor like me who typically averages into a position by purchasing shares of a particular stock in three tranches over a handful of weeks as opposed to in one fell swoop, this would dramatically increase the cost for me to invest.

This may be just fine for the average person. It may even be preferable in most instances, as having professionals at JPMorgan Chase invest your retirement funds is a prudent move if you aren't a seasoned investor. In my case, however, I write about stocks for a living and am thus confident in my ability to invest my and my wife's retirement funds.

I know other potential JPMorgan Chase customers are in the same boat, as one of its investment advisors told me that she's previously run into this issue on multiple occasions. One would thus be excused for thinking that JPMorgan Chase, despite its size and sophistication, is missing an opportunity to draw customers like me away from its competitors simply because it doesn't offer self-directed retirement accounts. I may be wrong, but this seems like low-hanging fruit.

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