AIG starts makeover, changes sign at NY office

NEW YORK Mon Mar 23, 2009 6:17pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Workmen rolled up their sleeves at American International Group Inc this weekend to take down the most prominent sign at the downtown Manhattan offices of the embattled insurer that has become the scorn of America.

A spokesman said the company had decided to replace the large AIG sign -- outside the entrance to its property-casualty offices -- as part of its plan to change that operation's name to AIU Holdings Ltd.

The move is designed to "distinguish these well-capitalized businesses from AIG," said a second spokesman.

The signage is outside the company's Water Street offices, around the corner from AIG's Pine Street headquarters, which has long only been marked by an understated brass plaque inscribed "American International Building."

AIG has said it may sell the headquarter building, as part of its drive to raise funds to repay its debt to the U.S. government.

The AIG name, once the proud moniker of the world's largest insurer, has become tainted since large losses on mortgage bets necessitated a government bailout of $85 billion last September. Twice since more aid has been given to AIG, with the rescue now costing U.S. taxpayers up to $180 billion.

The AIG name has become even more tarnished in the past week, after a scandal erupted over bonuses to executives of a controversial financial products unit that caused much of the $100 billion in losses over the past year.

A rebranding to distance the giant insurer's sprawling operations across 130 countries away from the AIG name are likely to continue.

"I think the AIG name is so thoroughly wounded and disgraced that we're probably going to have to change it," Liddy told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee last Wednesday.

WHAT'S IN A NAME

AIG's roots date back to China in 1919 but it has only carried the American International name since 1967, when the new company was incorporated to hold the shares of the group's growing insurance operations.

Since AIG's bailout last September, other of the company's businesses have also rebranded, in most cases returning to earlier names.

A U.S. auto insurance unit, AIG Direct, for example, has changed its name back to 21st Century, the name it used until 2007 when AIG, already a majority owner, acquired 100 percent of the company.

In the case of AIU Holdings, the company said earlier this month that it was renaming its global property-casualty business ahead of plans to eventually spin off about 20 percent of this business in a public stock offering, and could sell off more over time.

(Reporting by Lilla Zuill and Karen Brettell; editing by Richard Chang)

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