I have been following the AIG story very closely, having worked in financial services for 36 years and also having many friends who currently work at AIG. This is my opinion about this very unfortunate situation.
First, this crisis at AIG was caused by its Financial Services Division. AIG is comprised of literally hundreds of divisions, most of them focused on the insurance business and are highly profitable and very strong. The Financial Services Division is only a very small part of AIG. Unfortunately, this division sold two highly risky products: Credit Default Swaps and Securities Lending. Both of these products were adversely impacted by the melt down of the mortgage industry.
What brought AIG down was this one unit that did financial services business, much like an investment bank. This business was not well controlled, either by the company or by the U.S. Government through strong regulation, and got in way over their heads insuring the collateralized mortgage obligations of many other banks all over the world….that was the credit default swap business…and when the mortgage bubble burst, AIG was caught holding the bag.
A Credit Default Swap is like an insurance policy bought by other financial institutions to insure against losses from deals they engage in. The Credit Default Swaps that AIG sold were protecting other banks like UBS and Barclay’s against credit losses from collateralized debt obligations supported by mortgages.
Securities Lending is when securities are lent to third parties and collateralized by, in the case of AIG, residential mortgage backed securities. Again, when the mortgage industry melted down, AIG was obligated to make good on these transactions, and was caught holding the bag. But this probably helped prevent many banks from failing, which would have brought down the entire financial system around the world.
I believe that it is true that if AIG had been allowed to fail it would have had a catastrophic impact on the world economy. They insure every aspect of international commerce as well as individual life, auto, home and other insurance policies and retirement annuities all over the world. They employ hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.
AIG is being held up in the glare of politics and media attention as being a villian. In fact, there are many good, decent and highly competent people working at AIG today, many of whom have worked there all their working lives and have lost a lot of what they were counting on for their retirement and many of them will be losing their jobs with little hope of recovering their retirement nest eggs. This is an enormous tragedy.
I understand the outrage being expressed over the bonuses, and those who are responsible for the debacle probably should not have been given the bonuses, but let us not forget that there are many, many others who have worked very hard to earn these bonuses and deserve them. And, they will pay hefty income taxes on this money. And this money will be spent and will be part of the economic stimulus so badly needed by our country and all over the world.
Let’s remember “Maps of Reality” and that we are all connected in one way or another. It doesn’t do any good to kick people when they are down and the same goes for the good people of AIG. Carol Colone is an Influencing wih Integrity certified trainer and a retired Human Resources Business Partner, JPMorgan Chase.
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