The Unreported Turnaround at American International Group Inc

Many know that AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) has recovered from the financial crisis. But it's also making major leaps in one thing that won't show up on its financial statements.

What you may have missed
Over the past 15 years, Nielsen has distributed its Harris Poll RQ study, which surveyed nearly 20,000 Americans to get their opinions on the 60 largest companies in the country. This year has truly marked a rebound, as the study states: "[T]he American public is slowly but steadily regaining confidence in corporate America with people now viewing corporate America more positively than they did before the start of the economic decline in 2008."

And while many companies gained ground, it turns out AIG was the big winner, which could mean big things for it in the future. 

The major leap
The study found AIG had a rating of 58.3 on the 1-to-100 scale, which put it in 54th place, behind the questionable (and often perceived as failing) Sears Holdings. Yet it's critical to note that AIG saw the biggest improvement in its score, growing by nearly 10 percentage points, whereas Sears saw its score fall by 3 percentage points.

But the true picture is the history of AIG's reputation. As you can see, 2014 marked true growth from the reputational side of things for the company that received -- and returned -- more than $180 billion in government bailouts:


Source: Nielsen. 

When you consider the remarkable improvement since 2010 -- a score below 50 is considered to put the firm in "critical" condition from a brand perspective -- the leap from 2013 to 2014 is an undoubted reason for optimism.

Why it matters to investors
The natural question then becomes, why on earth should such a turnaround related to how its name is perceived matter to investors?

It's critical to note thast of the $60 billion it revenue it had from its core operations last year, more than 40% of it, or $26 billion, was attributable to its consumer property casualty insurance and its retail life and retirement operations. Since AIG doesn't offer auto insurance, many don't think it interacts with everyday Americans, but the reality is, it's undoubtedly dependent on them.

This relates to its brand perception, because while it wasn't disclosed this year, in 2011 -- even with the turnaround -- Nielsen noted that only 3% of the 30,000 individuals surveyed said they would "definitely" purchase a product or service from AIG, and only 2% said they would definitely recommend AIG to others. 

One has to think part of the reason for the improvement seen by its Retail operation from its Life and Retirement insurance segment, which saw revenue grow by more than 20% from $10.5 billion in 2012 to $12.7 billion in 2013, was partially attributable to an improved perception of the AIG brand.

Looking forward
All too often, investing can relate only to a company's financial performance. While that is undoubtedly a critical consideration, for companies who interact with everyday Americans like you and me, it's also vital to monitor how their products are perceived by people who decide with their wallets whether to buy them.

AIG has been in the midst of an extreme turnaround over the past few years, and the improvement in its brand perception means even more growth and progress could be ahead of it.

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