Tom Broughton, editor
Look past the $61.7bn (£43.9bn) loss reported by AIG this week and you will find a piece of fancy footwork by the US government. A third bailout and a wholesale restructuring allows AIG’s toxic assets to be stripped from the business, wrapped up and placed in a dusty box in the cellar of the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, AIG’s going concerns are getting close attention in order to restore confidence and dress them up for the shop window in the next quarter (see pages 9 and 16 to 17).
Lex Baugh, boss of AIG UK, admits that a stake will be sold in the international general insurance business. And the AIG brand is set to disappear from the UK within weeks. Who would have predicted that 12 months ago?
This process needs to happen fast, as the fundamentals of the regulatory system are undermined every time AIG UK wins a client on price alone while its parent is underwritten by the American taxpayer. Of course, Baugh would point to the business being separately capitalised, regulated and managed. And when its UK results appear next week, it is likely to be given a clean bill of health with a combined operating ratio in the early nineties. But this is an issue of principle. It is important to acknowledge the global implications of AIG’s meltdown but, back on the British high street, the situation creates unfairness and disparity at a time when risk management of capital adequacy is driving every insurer to restructure its business. This can’t carry on for much longer. The question now is: who will benefit, who will seize the opportunity?
Maso’s next step
When Philippe Maso landed in the AXA hot seat last April, they said he was too French, too disengaged and too different for a market full of clients needing his love (see pages 9 and 18 to 19).
But over the past 11 months, he has developed local knowledge, market intelligence and a desire to overhaul service standards, while also navigating the financial crisis. Maso accepts that the insurer-owning broker model may not be the right path for AXA and he has reluctantly signalled that Bluefin could be sold for the right price. Any such move would prompt another round of structural change in a broking market craving stability. But then perhaps Maso has one eye on a troubled insurer he could snap up to define his own legacy.