Bank CEOs lament loss of confidence

America and Americans have lost their mojo.

National joblessness remains above 9 percent. Main Street continues to battle a sunken housing market. Growth prospects aren’t all that promising.

John Stumpf and Jamie Dimon see these hurdles, too, but one of the impediments to overcoming them, they say, is a lack in confidence that it can be done.

“I think the No. 1 challenge today in America is confidence. We have a confidence deficiency,” said Stumpf, chairman, president and CEO of Wells Fargo, the nation’s fourth-largest bank by assets.

“We went through a financial crisis and there were a lot of reasons for it and we haven’t come out of it in a strong way like we’d have liked to,” said Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank by assets.

“So people are starting to question a little bit.”

Stumpf, who spoke at the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, and Dimon, who spoke Friday during a Metro Atlanta Chamber event, challenged local business leaders to stay bullish.

Americans are retreating from the stock market. Banks are flush with deposits, many of them earning little to no interest. There’s little appetite for to invest, to risk.

But it’s the lack of confidence to take risk, to start companies, that has weakened this recovery, unlike past recoveries. The anger at Wall Street, Washington and the economic malaise are manifest because of an economy that isn’t putting Americans back to work fast enough

“I think the recent upset is that it’s been a long time of 9 percent unemployment,” Dimon said.

In his interview last week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dimon said he understands the frustrations.

“If you are the average American citizen, you had to be looking at what happened and saying to Wall Street, ‘What happened? I thought you guys were smart,'” he said.

The rancor against banks is nearing its highest since the collapse of Wall Street in 2008.

Loose lending and other abuses by many banking institutions contributed heavily to the meltdown and it took taxpayer-funded bailouts to salvage the economy. Millions of homeowners are struggling to pay their mortgage and the housing market is glutted with repossessed homes. Then there’s the foreclosure documentation scandal.

Bank customers are up in arms about fees on debit cards and other basic banking services long taken for granted as free.

The outrage has contributed to political movements as diverse as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

“People are hurting. People are not seeing opportunities and big government is in their cross hairs, big business is, the big banks surely are,” Stumpf said. “But I think the way you solve this is less through a marketing campaign and much more through actions.”

The Wells Fargo and Chase CEOs responded to critics by saying their banks are lending to small business, they are modifying mortgages and helping struggling borrowers. But the economics of banking have changed with increased regulation.

Wall Street isn’t the only culprit inhibiting growth. Washington gridlock hasn’t helped, Stumpf said.

Dimon said the nation needs a new “Marshall Plan,” a multi-pronged approach that would fix the national economy and get people working again. One of the first places to start, he said, is fixing an antiquated tax code.

Major companies and small businesses are paralyzed by uncertainty because of future tax policy and pending regulation.

“I think America is strong and it’s going to come back,” Dimon said. “I personally think the people who are busy demonizing business are doing it damage. Business is the economic engine.”

Stumpf, in his message to the press club, said America can fix many of its problems economically by innovating and rebuilding confidence. The nation must build aninfrastructure for the future, improve education and be a leader in healthcare, energy and technology.

"This can be America’s next Greatest Generation. We can do this,” he said.