Regulators “worked diligently to thoroughly reevaluate whether AIG poses a risk to financial stability,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action demonstrates our commitment to act decisively to remove any designation if a company does not pose a threat to financial stability.”
The government’s hasty, controversial bailout of AIG during the depths of the financial crisis — and the national outrage that followed news of bonuses being awarded to AIG executives afterward — came to epitomize taxpayers’ frustrations with the financial industry. After AIG’s risky derivatives trades nearly sank the global economy, the company was essentially nationalized and then designated by regulators as a “systemically important financial institution” subject to tougher government oversight.
AIG is a much different company now. It has paid back its bailout and is smaller.
Friday’s “decision reflects the substantial and successful de-risking that AIG’s employees have achieved since 2008,” Brian Duperreault, AIG’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “The company is committed to continued vigilant risk management and to working closely with our numerous regulators to enable a strong AIG to continue to serve our clients.”
But the decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of high-level financial regulators, was immediately criticized by some advocates as financial-crisis amnesia that could set up taxpayers for another disaster. Regulators’ “action today removing the gigantic global financial firm AIG from federal supervision is as unwarranted as it is unwise,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It is a historic mistake and a slap in the face to the tens of millions of Americans who suffered and continue to suffer from the devastating 2008 financial crash.”
The council voted that AIG is no longer a threat to the economy by a 6-to-3 vote, with only Obama-era nominees, including Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, voting against it.
After the financial crisis, Congress passed financial reforms known as Dodd-Frank that included tougher oversight for financial firms, outside of traditional banks, that could pose a threat to the economy. These firms had traditionally received little government scrutiny. But after AIG’s near collapse, lawmakers called for stricter rules for this portion of the financial industry.
During the Obama administration, the FSOC labeled four firms — AIG, Prudential, General Electric’s financing arm and MetLife — as “systemically important financial institutions,” subjecting them to tougher government rules. These firms had to set aside a bigger financial cushion and operate with other safeguards to protect taxpayers if the businesses ran into financial trouble.
The companies have grumbled about the process and the extra regulations since the beginning. Last year, MetLife won a reprieve from the rules in court after arguing the FSOC did not properly assess the insurer’s financial strength. And regulators decided that General Electric’s lending unit was no longer a threat to the financial system.
Now, only Prudential remains on the government’s list of non-bank companies that are “too big to fail.”
That may not be for long, Ian Katz, a financial policy analyst with the research firm Capital Alpha Partners, said in a research note late Friday. “It’s unclear exactly when, but Friday’s decision ramps up pressure on the council to de-designate” Prudential, he said. “It’s tough to argue that only one U.S. non-bank is systemically important, and that it’s Prudential.”