American International Group (NYSE:AIG) once again demonstrated that it is back on track to becoming the great leader of insurance it was before the financial crisis. With earnings that wowed analysts and investors, the megainsurer has left little doubt that it's gaining momentum and strength. And while earnings and other financial progress documented in the company's press release may be good enough for some investors, others may find that the details provided in its earnings call gives a clearer picture of how AIG will be moving forward.
Since this morning's call is more than an hour long, we'll save you the time and give you three key quotes from CEO Bob Benmosche that gives plenty of evidence that the insurer is looking for long-term success.
No. 1: "Fix the foundation, and get the fundamentals right."
Since the financial crisis, AIG has been paring down its "non-core" operations and assets, focusing on strengthening its core operations in property and casualty insurance and life and retirement solutions. With the majority of its non-core operations out of the way, the first quarter of this year was a solid representation of how the fundamental operations for which AIG was known are strong and capable of growing. Benmosche's comment shows the true focus of the company is directed at getting back to basics and being the best. A great strategy that can help the company turn around its dulled image in the eyes of investors and Main Street.
No. 2: "Turnover is going to happen."
In the past week, there has been a lot of talk about the "exodus" of four top property and casualty executives to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B). While the company's P&C operations are expansive and not entirely vulnerable to these departures, many analysts and investors questioned whether there would be more employees heading for the exits in the coming months.
According the Benmosche, every company is going to lose people to competitors from time to time, and AIG is not worried about the recent shuffle in management. In fact, he noted that the company has been able to retain 94% of its top 30% in producers, with 45% of those employees having a tenure of more than 10 years and 15% of 20 or more years. As competitors enter uncharted waters, Benmosche expects that companies with deep benches and experienced management will be likely to attract demand for their executives.
No. 3: "Slowly and cautiously."
AIG has not shied away from questions about the probability of a shareholder dividend or share buyback program. But the company and Benmosche have been forthcoming in saying that those activities are not the primary focus at the moment. In following his previous statements from year-end 2012, Benmosche noted that the company is still working on its liability management, with a focus on good credit ratings from the rating agencies to make sure that AIG is not doing anything that would be harmful in the long run. After management feels like it has achieved its liability management goals, a dividend would be the second priority, with a share buyback program coming in third. But Benmosche noted that any buyback would be completed slowly and cautiously, again in concert with the ratings agencies to make sure that the best plan is put in action.
Investors, while perhaps getting a bit impatient, should be happy about the company's slow return to distributing capital. The cautious approach proves that management is not chasing a higher stock price for its own benefit but is instead trying to take the appropriate path to long-term success for the company and for investor well-being.
Tell it to me straight
There are tons of insights that you can garner from a single conference call. And while you may be fine with just knowing the financial results from a company, the true strength of earnings season often comes from the direction it can demonstrate through its responses to questions and criticisms on a call. With Benmosche and other executives at AIG speaking plainly and openly about its plans and aspirations, any investor should feel that the company is once again on the path to leadership in the insurance industry.