While the ongoing AIG bailout money scandal appears to be gathering momentum in the U.S. many people in Israel are wondering how this may be affecting the insurance consortium’s affiliate in this country, especially in light of the on-going economic recession that is now fully entrenched in Israel. AIG’s attempt to have an increasing share of the Israel insurance market has not been without problems, as the local company, which began business in Israel in the late 1990’s, appears to be investing a considerable sum of money in TV advertising to help maintain a positive image with an increasingly skeptical public.

AIG began its operations in Israel in the late 1990’s by marketing direct automobile insurance in competition with another company, I.D.I. Insurance Company Ltd, otherwise known as “Betuah Yashir” or Direct Insurance. As of June, 2007, AIG Israel had managed to acquire a 3% share of the Israeli insurance market, with annual sales revenues of $100 million and a profit of $10 million. For years, the company sustained losses in the insurance products it marketed to its Israeli customers, which later expanded to household and mortgage insurance covers, as well as life and health insurance products. While it earlier used more simplified types of media advertising, it has recently used high profile personalities from the Israeli entertainment world, including TV and theatre acting personality Avi Kushnir, and transsexual singing star Dana International, who was hired to advertise the company’s Lady AIG insurance packages.

AIG Israel, headed by Hava-Friedman Shapira, has undergone a massive TV “hasbara” or PR campaign to try to insure its existing and potential customers that everything is OK with the Israeli branch of AIG despite the problems its big brother in America is now experiencing, especially after the revelations that a good part of the money the company was given by US Treasury to keep it solvent has been paid out to its high level management in the form of bonuses. Kushnir has literally earned the title of being known as “Mr. AIG Israel” for the clever and cute commercials he has appeared in for AIG, including being dressed as a woman to promote the company’s “Lady AIG” insurance package, along with Dana International, for women drivers over age 30 who have a good driving record. He was also aired in a special PR commercial that came out soon after the near-collapse of the American AIG and the initial bailout from the US government last October. The commercial shows him walking onto center stage and saying the words: “I saw…..I heard……it’s all right now” in order to show AIG’s Israeli policy holders that they have nothing to worry about.

Kushnir has since been seen in a different commercial in which he tells the viewing public that in spite of many companies conducting massive layoffs of employees, AIG is actually hiring people to work in the company’s sales and customer service departments. It’s understandable why this may be happening; since insurance companies make a good part of their total revenues from selling policies, as well as renewing existing ones. More than likely, the company surely needs extra help to try and bring in more insurance customers, and especially to keep existing policy holders from deserting the company in favor of other insurers. With all that is going on with AIG in America, who might not be just a bit edgy when the time comes to renew an automobile or other type of personal insurance policy. And this reality is something that even Kushnir or Dana will have a hard time trying to prevent AIG policy holders from saying: “I saw…..I heard….I left!”