Use it for confetti on New Year's Eve or put it on the mulch pile.
The recent calamity in the financial community, as we in the newspaper business would say, has sent that whole story back to rewrite.
At the heart of it, of course, are the troubles at American International Group Inc., where the song was over but the melody lingered on awhile under a new leadership, which sponsored a couple of megabuck celebrations for its agents. This at a time when the company went hat in hand to Washington begging for an $85 billion bailout loan, and then an additional $37.8 billion to tide it over.
Only the automotive industry bigwigs who flew into Washington on private jets to plea for taxpayer dollars to salvage their failed efforts matched AIG for tone deafness.
So in the coming year, instead of watching the eternal march of the mighty AIG, heretofore the world's largest commercial property/casualty insurance company, toward ever more power and glory, we'll watch with fascination how the organization unravels and repositions itself for the future.
We'll be fixating with equal fascination to see how mighty Marsh, the world's largest commercial broker, fares this year as it, too, adjusts to life in a far different universe. The broker compensation scandals of yore are now the very least of its problems.
We'll watch as well at the unseemly scramble of some insurance companies (The Hartford is one) to link up with banks in order to quality for federal bailout dollars.
The debate over insurance regulation likewise goes back to rewrite. The generation-old argument over federal versus state regulation seemed not so long ago to be coming to a head with a dual regulation scheme, akin to the banking system's, closer than ever to reality.
The problems at AIG and the general shift in mood toward tighter financial regulation, it was said, made some form of federal regulation of insurance likely.
But just weeks ago, the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said publicly that the chances of it happening this year are slim and none.
A new administration and a new Congress both have a full plate: two wars, the worst economy since the Great Depression, desperate need for an overhaul of energy policy, health insurance policy, taxation policy, etc., etc.
The insurance agenda will have to take a backseat. It may be advanced down the line--but not this year.
Footnote: Sad news from Washington on the passing of Mary Jane Fisher, a fixture on Capitol Hill for generations as a correspondent for the old Washington Insurance
Newsletter and later for the National Underwriter and the Insurance Advocate. She was 90. This grand and energetic lady was still filing copy into her 80s, much of it with yours truly. She will be missed.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY,
a writer on industry affairs, is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
January 8, 2009
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