Not Business As Usual: AIG to Hold Low Cost Conference for Financial Advisers

By | October 2, 2009

American International Group Inc. is again hosting some of the top U.S. financial advisers and says that this time, the gathering at a California resort will cost it just $30,000.

The insurer, sharply criticized for holding an executive retreat that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars after AIG accepted government bailout money, said it had arranged for sponsors to pay $1.27 million, most of the cost of the event beginning Sunday at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, California.

Roughly 200 independent financial advisers and 20 members of senior management from AIG’s Advisor Group will attend the meeting, which the company is calling a Business Leaders Forum.

AIG said it is paying $30,000 for airfare, hotel rooms, meals and ground transportation of the 20 Advisor Group members. Additional guests, including spouses, have to pay their own way. All recreation — golf outings, spa treatments — will also be paid by the attendees or by the sponsors, the New York-based company said.

The government gave AIG a bailout package worth $182.5 billion after the company almost collapsed a year ago from investments in mortgage-related securities that went sour. Now, it says, it’s trying to get back to working in a normal way.

“What we are saying is we are back to the business of being in business,” AIG spokesman Mark Herr said. “Last year was a long year, but we’re in the marketplace competing, we are doing business.”

The conference is expected to generate $400 million in new business, Herr said, adding that the company’s business strategy is aimed at repaying the government. The Government Accountability Office said that as of early September, AIG’s outstanding balance of government aid was $120.7 billion.

“We are committed to repaying the taxpayer,” Herr said. “This conference is one way we are getting back to the business of being in business.”

Asked why the meeting was being held in California and not AIG’s corporate headquarters in New York, Herr said, “These are 200 of the highest producing, highest achieving advisers.”

“If you are going to recognize them, honor them, woo them, you are going to do it in a nice place.”

Other companies have also been criticized for hosting conferences and retreats after receiving government bailout money. In February, Wells Fargo & Co., which received $25 billion, canceled retreats to Las Vegas after being criticized for its plans.

AIG was rescued in September 2008 by the government with an initial package worth $85 billion. The company was criticized by Congress for spending $440,000 on spa treatments for executives just days after it received the bailout. The company then canceled all such future outings.

In exchange for the bailout, which eventually grew to $182.5 billion, taxpayers received a nearly 80 percent stake in the company. AIG is shedding assets and cutting costs as it restructures.

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