American International Group (AIG) has launched a public relations campaign to repair its reputation.
On Thursday, the insurer posted several videos on YouTube, www.youtube.com/aig, proclaiming that AIG is proud to be an American corporation.
AIG received the biggest government bailout of any company during the 2008 financial crisis, totaling $182.5 billion. The company became a symbol for greed and excessive risk-taking on Wall Street and a touchstone for public anger. AIG was done in by offering large amounts of insurance on complex mortgage-backed investments that it wasn't able to pay when the U.S. housing market collapsed.
The company has been on the mend since Robert Benmosche, the imposing former head of MetLife, took over as CEO in 2009. Benmosche sold off large chunks of the company to raise money and pay back its loans to the U.S. government. He also set about rebuilding the company's insurance business.
Today, AIG is about half the size it was prior to the crisis. Shareholders who owned the stock prior to the crisis were wiped out. But those who bought the stock this year in January did well. It's up 31 percent year-to-date.
AIG has posted two consecutive years of profits and has paid back its loans from the Federal Reserve. The U.S. Treasury still owns a big stake in the company, but even that has been cut down to about 60 percent from more than 92 percent. The government has made a profit on the stock it has sold.
The company believes it now deserves a kinder view from the American public. There's no telling if the campaign will help change its image.
Benmosche has said no one believed his company would pay the American people back. He has promised not only make taxpayers whole, but also to give back the money plus a profit. The 68-year-old CEO was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and is undergoing treatment. He has promised to stay on and fulfill his commitment.
The YouTube ads recount the story of AIG's comeback from the depths of the financial crisis, using computer graphics with soft music playing in the background. Some feature testimonials from employees around the globe.
At the end of one video, the following titles flash across the screen:
"Thank you, America. We're proud to be keeping our promise to stand by you."