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AIG to Pay $1.1 Billion in Bonuses to Keep Key Staff

Source: Marketwatch

Posted on 11 Aug 2009

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In other AIG news, the insurer says it will spend $1.1 billion in bonuses to retain key staff members to help wind down businesses and keep other parts of the company competitive.

AIG said it has already incurred $824 million of expenses from a retention plan that was set up in 2008 and runs through 2011. Another $249 million will be spent during the second half of 2009, the insurer estimated in a regulatory filing.

In 2010, the plan will likely cost $18 million, while in 2011 it will cost $1 million, AIG added. That brings the total cost of the plan to $1.092 billion, AIG estimated.

The ultimate amount paid could be less, mainly because of forfeitures, AIG noted. A national furor erupted earlier this year when it emerged that AIG had paid roughly $160 million to retain employees at the derivatives unit that wrote billions of dollars in guarantees on mortgage-related securities that would lead to the company’s near collapse.

Some recipients of the bonuses agreed to pay the money back, but the episode has sparked a debate about compensation across corporate America.

AIG is in a tricky situation, because its derivatives unit still has more than $1 trillion of exposures that need to be unwound while keeping losses under control. The company needs derivatives experts to stick around to manage this process, but if it pays them too much to stay it may be heavily criticized for spending too much government money on eye-popping bonuses.

"This company is not going to heal itself and be wound down without people," Cathy Seifert, an insurance analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research, said. AIG's derivatives business "needs to be wound down very carefully. You want qualified people doing that."

If AIG doesn't pay experts enough to keep them, the company could lose more money on its derivatives positions than it saves on compensation, she explained

"There's something to be said for not being penny wise and pound foolish," Seifert added. "I'm sorry if that's not a politically acceptable thing to say."

The White House in June appointed Kenneth Feinberg to oversee compensation at some of the large financial institutions, including AIG and Citigroup, that received a lot of government support. Feinberg has the power to reject pay packages for the top 100 employees of these institutions. However, he only has authority over future compensation arrangements, so AIG's 2008 retention plan may be outside of his jurisdiction.

"AIG, along with the other six institutions receiving exceptional assistance, will need to convince Mr. Feinberg that they have struck the right balance to discourage excessive risk taking and reward performance for their top executives," said an official from the Treasury Department.