Greenberg, New York State Settle Long-Running Civil Case

One of Wall Street’s longest-running dramas closed Feb. 10 as New York State and Maurice “Hank” Greenberg finally ended a legal clash which began in 2005 under the stewardship of then Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

Former American International Group, Inc. CEO Greenberg and the Attorney General’s office reached a settlement over accusations that the company engaged in fraudulent transactions to boost reserves and hide losses.

Greenberg, who was chairman and CEO of AIG from 1967 until his ouster in 2005 and now serves as chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr & Co., will pay some $9 million to end his role in the saga. Also, Howard Smith, former AIG CFO and Greenberg’s lieutenant will pay $900,000 to settle the charges stemming from two alleged transactions designed to misrepresent company finances.

This included a $500 million deal in the year 2000 with reinsurer General Re, part of businessman Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., to pad AIG’s loss reserves. Greenberg allegedly initiated the Gen Re deal with a call to the company’s CEO.

The two former AIG leaders were also said to be involved in a deal with Capco Reinsurance Co., which masked a $210 million underwriting loss as an investment loss.

The sums paid by the men are related to performance bonuses earned from 2001 to 2004, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who inherited the long-running conflict. Schneiderman sought to ban the men from the securities industry and from serving as directors and officers of public companies as part of the settlement, which ultimately did not include these provisions.

Schneiderman had previously dropped a $6 billion damage claim against Greenberg and others, once a class action settlement was approved in 2013 under which Greenberg paid $115 million to AIG shareholders.

A 2009 settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over charges related to AIG‘s accounting saw Greenberg pay $15 million and Smith $1.5 million to the agency.

Late last year Greenberg and the Attorney General’s office turned to mediation after trial testimony had already begun in state court. The mediation, which ultimately produced the settlement, was run by alternative dispute resolution specialist Kenneth Feinberg.

The finale to the case was perhaps more of a whimper than a bang, with settlements hardly headline-grabbing and no one admitting to much more than accounting slips.

In a press release from the N.Y. State Attorney General’s Office, Schneiderman sounded a triumphant tone. “Today’s agreement settles the indisputable fact that Mr. Greenberg has denied for 12 years: that Mr. Greenberg orchestrated two transactions that fundamentally misrepresented AIG’s finances,” Schneiderman said in the statement. “After over a decade of delays, deflections, and denials by Mr. Greenberg, we are pleased that Mr. Greenberg has finally admitted to his role in these fraudulent transactions and will personally pay $9 million to the State of New York.”

Greenberg, who was unapologetic, in his statement said, “The Gen Re transaction was done for the purpose of increasing AIG’s loss reserves, and the Capco transaction was done for the purpose of converting underwriting losses into investment losses. I knew these facts at the time that I initiated, participated in and approved these two transactions…As a result of these transactions, AIG’s publicly-filed consolidated financial statements inaccurately portrayed the accounting, and thus the financial condition and performance for AIG’s loss reserves and underwriting income.”

The pundits had their say as well, split as to what it all meant.

“The taxpayers of New York State should be furious,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, editorial page editor. “The $9 million fine amounts to pin money for Mr. Greenberg…It won’t come close to covering the state’s costs for pursuing the case over so many years…The real lessons of the Greenberg case start with the absurd lengths that progressive prosecutors will go to punish capitalists they don’t like,” Gigot said.

Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer David Bois called the deal with the Attorney General a “nuisance settlement,” according to the New York Times.

Others were less forgiving of Mr. Greenberg. “Just because he hasn’t pled guilty to fraud doesn’t mean he’s been vindicated,” David Schiff, a former insurance analyst who followed AIG, told the Times.

Hank Greenberg Shares Concerns for Insurance Industry at RIMS Canada Conference

Hank Greenberg RIMS canada

QUEBEC CITY, CANADA—Currently on the mend from Legionnaires’ disease, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg appeared via live video stream to deliver the keynote address to the 2015 RIMS Canada Conference. The chairman and CEO of the Starr Companies and former chairman and CEO of AIG gave a frank and diverse address highlighting a number of concerns about potential impacts to the insurance industry due to the current climate.

“We’re living in a very troubled time on a global basis,” he said, emphasizing geopolitical instability. While such geopolitical uncertainty demonstrates the need for political insurance, other widespread conditions do not necessarily have such favorable implications for the industry.

“Clearly commercial insurance rates are under pressure,” he said. “The absence of catastrophes has masked that rates have gone down so much, and that has allowed some companies to survive.”

He also noted that investment income is suffering because of interest rates, and expressed concern that many companies are turning to long-tail reserves for income. What’s more, he said, accident year results for many companies are turning negative, and many are finding their reserves inadequate, particularly as expense ratios are frequently increasing rather than remaining steady. Companies that aren’t very efficient will find it very hard to be competitive and show returns this year, he cautioned.

Further examining the industry, Greenberg criticized insurers for “not doing a very good job of training underwriters,” seeing a stark comparison to the rigorous, diverse experience previously customary in the London market, for example.

“It takes years of experience to train an underwriter—they are not just qualified because of a college degree,” he said. “It takes years of work and a lot of common sense to develop the wisdom to know what can be underwritten and at what price.”

When it comes to this talent concern, he noted, it is not a question of which companies are doing better, but a problem across the board. “I don’t think we have the discipline, as an industry, to do the job properly,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg also shared some of his political opinions, both international and domestic. Of China, the US-ASEAN Business Council chairman emeritus and vice chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations said he does not share the widespread dubious feelings on China. “They’ve had some missteps. What country hasn’t?” he said.

He spent some of his time addressing the burgeoning 2016 U.S. election. Greenberg noted Donald Trump’s campaign as part of what he views as growing dissatisfaction – and perhaps inadequacy – of the current political system. “People are fed up with the political system as it currently exists. Why else would somebody like Trump, who has no experience but is speaking about things people care about be doing so well?” he said.

He also told the crowd that Jeb Bush would personally be visiting him Wednesday. Greenberg does not yet endorse any particular candidate, however, and expressed some concern about the Republican party’s position amid acute socioeconomic changes and resulting political demands nationwide.

“You have to give people the opportunity to succeed—that’s the American Dream. That’s why people came here,” he said. “If we’re going to deny that opportunity, the Republican party will have to change its name.”

Hank Greenberg on Executives, Culture and What to Do With Negative Personnel Directors

In the video above, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg — the 87-year-old architect of AIG and current chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr & Co. — speaks his mind in an interview with Carrier Management

He talks about:

  • his time in the Korean War
  • his “purely by chance” start in insurance after returning stateside
  • how he fired the first personnel director he met in the industry (a “jerk” whose “attitude was very, very negative”)
  • the mark of a good executive (one who “tries to be himself” rather than just following in someone else’s footsteps “to be like them” — “if you don’t think independently, what are you: You’re just a copycat”)
  • How corporate culture evolves over time (“you’ve got to be sensitive to change”)

He has never been a bashful man.

Recap of the IICF Benefit Dinner

Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the 4th annual Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) benefit dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria here in New York. It was a packed house with more than 800 in attendance. The speakers and the atmosphere (not to mention the food) were amazing!

The lineup for speakers included Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark Messier, Rudy Giuliani, Greg Case of Aon Corporation, Marice Greenberg of C.V Starr and David Brinkman of Aon Benfield. The sports stars were there to speak on behalf of the charitable organizations with which they are associated (The Boys & Girls Club of America for Griffey and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation for Messier).

The 2010 dinner honoree was Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, who applauded the IICF and all companies within the insurance industry for donating so much time, effort and money to great causes. Guiliani kept the crowd in stitches with sports jabs at Griffey and Messier and NYC borough trash talk. But he also thanked the industry for its generosity.

“The insurance industry is an enormous part of the city,” Guiliani said. “The fact that you want to reach out and help so many people is what America is about.”

Last night’s event raised $1.1 million for charity from the more than 130 major insurance companies that support IICF. A great night for a good cause.