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Masters, Creator of the Credit Default Swap, to Leave JPMorgan

finance.fortune.cnn.com | April 4, 2014

By Stephen Gandel

FORTUNE -- Blythe Masters, one of the highest-profile female investment bankers, is leaving JPMorgan Chase after 27 years.

JPMorgan (JPM) announced the departure in a memo on Wednesday in which CEO Jamie Dimon and Daniel Pinto, who heads the firm's investment bank, called Masters' career "remarkable." They said Masters will be taking some "well-deserved" time off and that she is still considering what she will do next.

Some have been speculating that she may leave the bank for a while. Last month, JPMorgan sold off the commodities unit that Masters has run for the past few years. Masters, who is based in London, is expected to stay on with the bank until the transaction with commodity trading firm Mercuria is complete.

The exit of Masters is also a coda for the financial crisis -- another sign that the biggest banks are trying to simplify and get out of risky businesses.

Masters joined JPMorgan as an intern back in 1987 and is widely credited with creating credit default swaps, a type of derivative that functions as bond insurance. CDS backers say that the contracts spread risk and enable more lending. But critics say the contracts hid risk in the run-up to the financial crisis. The contracts also allowed hedge funds and others to create deals based on the housing bubble that were doomed to fail. Unsuspecting investors, and even many of the big banks that helped create the bonds, eventually had to swallow billions in losses. In September 2009, Vanity Fair ranked Masters No. 65 on its list of 100 people most to blame for the financial crisis, right behind Bernie Madoff.

Shortly after the financial crisis, Masters made the switch to commodities, taking over JPMorgan's unit. But she ran into problems there as well. Last year, JPMorgan paid a $410 million fine to settle charges that the bank manipulated electricity prices in California in 2010 and 2011. For a time, it looked like Masters would be charged as part of the investigation, but in the end she avoided individual prosecution.

That was not enough to save the unit. And now JPMorgan is parting ways with one of the bankers who helped create some of Wall Street's most complex derivatives.

Masters is also the latest departure of high-profile bankers from JPMorgan. Last week, Michael Cavanagh, who was co-head of the firm's investment bank, and widely believed to be a contender to eventually replace CEO Dimon, left to join private equity firm Carlyle.

 

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