Jamie Dimon got a huge pay cut. Or a huge raise. It’s hard to tell.


Last year, JPMorgan Case chief executive Jamie Dimon was paid either $11.8 million or $20 million, depending on who you ask. (Richard Drew/AP)

Quiz: Which of these two stories about Jamie Dimon's pay is true?

1) JPMorgan Chase head Jamie Dimon received a 37 percent pay cut last year, from $18.7 million in compensation to $11.8 million, after a difficult year when the company was hit with billions of dollars in fines from criminal and regulatory investigations.

2) Despite having a terrible 2013 at JPMorgan Chase, chief executive Jamie Dimon was rewarded with a 74 percent raise, lifting his overall pay from $11.5 million in 2012 to $20 million last year, raising questions about the fairness of executive pay at the country's biggest banks.

Oddly enough, both versions are true. In fact, all the numbers used above can be found in the same JPMorgan filing late Wednesday outlining the company's pay for top executives. Which numbers you prefer — and the story they tell about Dimon's pay — depends on essentially one critical accounting choice.

To explain: The first set of numbers — showing a drop in pay — is following the Security and Exchange Commission's standard for reporting compensation. And it's easy to see how media outlets, like the Associated Press, concluded that Dimon received a massive pay cut. It appears very clearly on page 47 of the company's proxy statement, a standard document released ahead of a company's annual meeting that typically discloses the most information shareholders will ever see about executive pay at a firm.

Based on this summary table, it looks like Dimon's pay has been steadily dropping the last few years, going from $23.1 million in 2011 to $18.7 million in 2012 and then $11.8 million in 2013.

But flip or scroll back 13 pages, and a different set of numbers using JPMorgan's own approach (rather than the SEC's) tell another story. Here, the numbers show that Dimon's pay went in the opposite direction last year, getting a big bump. And his pay seems to have see-sawed in recent years, rather than steadily declined.

dimonpay


Why the big difference? It's all about what year you decide to attach to Dimon's bonus. The SEC requires firms to disclose compensation based on the calendar year when the money is actually paid out. So Dimon's bonus, if it's paid in January 2013, gets counted as 2013 compensation, even if the company is trying to reward him for the company's performance from 2012.

By contrast, JPMorgan voluntarily shows a different set of numbers to illustrate more clearly which year's performance the firm is trying to reward for. So the 2013 figure from the company shows the bonus Dimon got paid at the beginning of 2014. (The summary table required by the SEC won't factor in that amount until next year.) Viewed in this way, the JPMorgan board clearly thought that Dimon did well enough to earn a raise.

It seems a little unusual that JPMorgan is offering numbers that could make the bank look worse — that is, if you're inclined to think that Dimon has no business getting a pay raise after a year of practically nonstop bad headlines. But in a corporate world where boards are trying to measure so-called "pay for performance," you can also see how it makes more sense to use JPMorgan's method to track pay, rather than the SEC's.

Of course, there are still numbers that the company's voluntary figures won't cover, including pay that isn't closely tied to performance. For instance, in a footnote to the summary table required by the SEC, we learn that Dimon also received $125,973 for "personal use of corporate aircraft," $31,041 for "personal use of cars," and $134,728 for "the cost of residential and related security." This much isn't subject to any quibbling: the perks of being a chief executive are still pretty generous.

Jia Lynn Yang is a staff writer at The Washington Post who covers policy and business. Before joining the Post, she worked at Fortune magazine.
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