Mark Bassingthwaighte:

Hello, I’m Mark Bassingthwaighte, the risk manager here at ALPS. And welcome to another episode of ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. Today, I wanted to spend a little time and share some backgrounds, introduce you to et cetera, to what I have called over the recent year project Vera.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

If you have visited our website of late, you may have seen a pop-up with a Llama, and an invitation to click on a link and participate in an assessment. You may have seen some email with the similar invitation as we advertise for our silly services and whatnot. But I really want to just share what Vera is all about. We’re very proud of Vera, and that it is the next evolution of the delivery of risk management services here at ALPS. And with that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to share a little history, how we got here, and then I’ll share a little bit about what Vera is all about.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

But years ago, now I have been with ALPS for about 23 and a half years. The [inaudible 00:01:23] way it’s just crazy how time flies, and risk services were in play prior to my arrival for a few years. And in those early years, we would write up some learnings and interesting claims, and share some learnings from them. We would write up some general articles, similar to what you might find on our blog today, but it was, of course, all paper back in those days, and you’d send these little newsletters out. But the bulk of the service, in terms of risk management services, really started with consulting.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And over the years, there are various names for this process, but really centered around just doing what we would call at RISC visit, and that sort of stood for Reduce Insured’s Susceptibility to Claims, but it really was a consulting type thing. It was a fee service. And at one point there were three of us that were traveling basically two weeks a month around the country. And you fly into Iowa and you’d have all these visits set up and, and drive all over the state, and visiting with solo and small firms. And the point was really to just share with as many insurers as we can firsthand a lot of the intellectual capital that we obtained over the years in terms of what are we seeing in claims? What sort of best practices would help prevent some of this stuff?

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And so it was really about education, and also, over time, I really learned some value out of this was just creating relationships. We really had a lot of firms were so appreciative, and they’d invite us back every couple of years, because you don’t do this every year, and they would call in with questions. And I really think it made a big difference in retention of our insurance base, but it also people feel free to call in more comfortable to call in and say, “Hey, we have this problem, or is this a concern? Should we re be reporting this?” And I really think that that made a difference over the years and in terms of trying to reduce claims, perhaps a little frequency, a little severity, but I’ll be honest to say at the end, I think the biggest value of all this was the relationship building that, that occurred, And I was so privileged to be a part of that.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

That process, really what it entailed was I’d walk in and depending on the structure, there’s a different process for a solo versus a firm of five attorneys, a couple associates in that kind of thing. But I would sit and spend some time going through a series of questions, and based upon the answers that, staff we would meet often separately or the attorneys, depending on the answers that they shared with us, we’d share some comments and some insights. And the goal was, again, to have a firm learn.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

After the conversations, I’d go back to the hotel, and I’d get into hot docs and we had all these templates, and we would write a report, and then follow up sending this report out. Then we’d have sample forms or articles that we felt might be of interest in terms of areas that we identified as a little bit of a concern in the sense. Perhaps they’re not using closure letters at all. And here’s some sample closer letters, and here are the benefits, the reasons why you really might want to spend some time looking at incorporating closure letters to the practice.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And so we’ve just covered all kinds of topics. A lot of fun, a lot of travel, crazy, crazy times for many years. It was just, wow. Trust me. I racked up a lot of miles.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

Over time, however, there was a problem, and it’s a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, but ALPS just continued to grow and grow and grow. And this is a very time-intensive, obviously, and expensive service to deliver. When you’re a smaller company, you can, in terms of percentage of insurers that you’re having the opportunity to work with, it’s a fairly significant percentage. But nowadays, boy. I mean, we have staff of probably 10 or 15 lawyers out here trying to do this, and we still couldn’t keep up. And so the model had to change, and we’ve played around with a number of different things for a few years after we stopped. Just again, it was just way too expensive to make this. This has never been a revenue generator in the sense of we’re looking at this as a profit center. We really trying to break even. And if we can throw a little money into covering some other expenses with improvements to software, some things like that, that’s all good.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

But we did get to a point where we had to say, “Okay, it’s time to put the live process to bed and be done.” And there was a lot of discussion internally about how do we transition? How do we continue to try to reach as many people as we can in terms of insurers, but not insurance as well? I mean isn’t that a goal? I mean, you’re sharing some internal discussions, it’s just to help lawyers as much as we can to help the bar at large.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

There were some fits and starts with some different ideas. We looked at doing some online types of things, and again, fits and starts and just struggled working this out and even finding the right type of platform to do this. But over time, we finally got there, and the Vera project was conceived to be the next, if you will, generation of consulting. But it’s all done now online, on demand, and for free. I mean, how great is that? So that’s Vera.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

But as we sat down and looked at this, I really wanted to have some fun. I wanted to make a process that I think could be engaging, that could be valuable, but also be fun. I mean, I get frustrated times lecturing about how you’re going to get sued, and telling all these stories, and then worse yet is all of the cybersecurity stuff, and at times it can be so overwhelming. I’m not always Mister Happy in terms of ethic, when people walk out of one of my seminars that we’ve just spent the last 90 minutes talking about all the ways you’re going to get hacked, and it can be overwhelming.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

I wanted to have a little fun, and the idea was to create a character. Vera really stands for Virtual Ethics Risk Assessment, because the consulting, when we were doing it live, we did start to evolve into the ethics space as well. Look at trust accounting as an example, and talk about some other ethical issues.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And this evolution has continued as we get to Vera. The idea was let’s turn this into a character, into some type of personality. And as we’ve talked, I kind of thought about wouldn’t have spirit guide of some sort interesting. I’m kind of channeling some of the Star Trek kinds of things. Star Trek Voyager, in particular, there was a character there that was Native American, and would talk about spirit guides and have spirit guides. That just, I don’t know, that just struck a chord with me. I always thought that was kind of cool. We came up with a llama, and as you begin to write and develop, you create a personality. And so Vera does have a personality, and that’ll be important here in a minute in terms of just understanding what we’re doing.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

The next step was to say, “How do we take the live consulting process and turn it into something that can be online on demand?” And I really just did an extensive rewrite, and also really tried to narrow down and center on some key things as an initial starting point. And so as I looked at the templates and all the things that we use when we were doing this in person, I really decided let’s look at seven key areas. And the key areas that I decided to focus on are client intake, file documentation, calendaring, trust account procedures, sort of some general risk management types of things, cybersecurity, and then firm policies, plans, looking at some administrative type issues in a firm. And so with that framework, we sat down and developed some questions, had some fun creating some answers, and believe it or not, some of these answers that you can select are maybe a little, at times, what, really, that’s kind of extreme. But I’m in being sincere and sharing. These answers really come out of the answer pool, if you will, from things that I heard over the years, and you just play with it a little bit to kind of make it fun.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

But so what, what would happen now is somebody can go in, and you work through a series of questions, and each of these categories currently have five questions. And so you’ve get a question about calendaring, and you can select from typically four to five answers, and based on the answer, you get a certain score and in each category, so calendaring, trust accounts, that kind of thing, gets a section score, and it all totals up then at the end to an overall score. And depending on the scoring that you get, even if you get it perfectly right, Vera will have a little feedback. It might be sharing some kudos, or it might be saying, “There might be some trouble ahead on the path that you’re on.” And then, so if the score is such that, again, it’s not perfect, she just interacts in a pleasant advisory kind of guide perspective, share some thoughts, a little bit of advice, and often has some links to resources that have been developed here over the years, maybe articles that I think would be interesting and appropriate to whatever topic we’re discussing, or Vera’s responding to, and just sample forms again. That kind of thing.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

That’s Vera in a nutshell in terms of what the process and sort of the personality is. In my mind Vera is, she’s not artificial intelligence, I mean, we haven’t gone that far, maybe someday you never know. But in my mind, she really is this virtual digital character that we have the pleasure to share with you and hope people will enjoy.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

If you were to now at this point, just perusing the website, up pops a link, or you get an email with a link, or you just decide you want to take a look at it at some point, what happens? Well, you can go to the website, and it happens to be www.ALPSinsurance.com/vera. V-E-R-A. And you can just go to the corporate website, and go to resources, and risk management. She’ll pop up.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

It takes about 20 minutes. You go through some questions. You do need to answer every question. A blank is going to be scored as a zero, and you do need to give us an email address. But outside of that, we’re not using the Vera as a tool to look at all these answers, and say, “Boy, if somebody ever applies or reapplies here, we see what they’re really…” No. We have an email address solely for the purpose of allowing or enabling Vera to, as soon as you’re finished, clicked on complete and all, she writes up this report, and we’ll email it to you and you can do what you want with it. So, we need to have a valid email address to get that out. But beyond that, all your answers are anonymous, not tied to anything we do look at over time, how many people are answering B to question four or something like that, just to see where problems might be with the intent of developing additional resources, perhaps if there’s a need. Just trying to identify where lawyers are struggling.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

But this is all anonymous. And the goal really is to share the intellectual capital in terms of risk management, claim prevention, staying out of trouble ethically, me even staying out of trouble with cyber breaches, and that kind of thing. Just to share that intellectual capital with as many lawyers as we can, regardless of their status with us in terms of being an insured or not. This is not about trying to just keep it all within the ALPS family. We are here to, truthfully, support the bar at large.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

My hope as an aside… As an aside isn’t the right word. I’m just going to struggle here for a moment. But my hope is that in time this tool will be valued enough or utilized enough, that we can continue to broaden and expand the capabilities of what Vera does. We’ll just have to see you over time what the pickup rate is perhaps, and also just would love to get some feedback. What do folks think about the tool? Is it useful? How might it be improved? What other topics do you think? I really see this as a way that the ALPS family can nurture and take this tool even to the next level, and be a part of the growth of Vera.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

How has Vera been received thus far? It’s an interesting question. The pickups, the hits have been, I’ll be honest and say a bit slow, but the folks that have gone through it, I have to share one story as a lawyer, actually here in Montana, a small firm, and really great guy. We talk at times, and years ago I’ve been out. But he emailed in, and he said, “We got this email about Vera, and decided I’m going to take the assessment.” So he went through the assessment on his own, got this report back. He says, “I was so impressed, Mark. I sat down and the entire firm’s staff, we all sat down and went through the assessment together.” Now, they didn’t get a hundred percent, so they develop an action plan afterwards. And the firm got together and developed an action plan. And I don’t know what their answers were or where the problems are, but again, let’s say they’re not using engagement letters as much as they should. I don’t know. Then they said, “Well, here’s the plan. Let’s start doing this.” And the plan is they’re going to work their action plan for three to six months, and then sit down together as a group again, and go through the assessment a second time with the goal of getting a hundred percent in terms of the score.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And we’re all bright people. We gone through law school and passed the bar and are practicing. We’re some bright people here. You really can gain Vera if you want. You can figure out what the right answer is, and get a hundred percent, but that’s not how he’s chosen to handle it. He said, “We answered honestly. We really want to use this as a learning tool.” And I said, “Was there any criticism or feedback?” He says, “My only criticism, Mark, is that this tool wasn’t available five years ago. It is just absolutely fantastic.” Because he really sees it as an opportunity to improve internally. And I was so touched by that. That really meant a lot. And I just was so appreciative that he took the time to reach out and share that.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

I just wanted to pass that along. Vera is a labor of love. And as we talk here a little bit, I spend a lot of time trying to write and put this together, but I want to put a shout out to colleague at ALPS, Andrew Sweet. And, Andrew really is the guy behind the scenes that really brings Vera to life in terms of doing the art work, creating the Vera logo. There’s a video that you get to see and hear, hear Vera speak. Andrew did all of this, and then really is the guy that made everything work in terms of the… I can sit and write a question, and I can sit and develop the layout of all this, but trust me, programming and putting all this, making Vera go, is not my bailiwick. I mean, I maybe could figure it out after a while, but, but Andrew’s the guy that really did the heavy lifting.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And I also want to share kudos to the rest of my team is we all sat down. Because this is not a one person doing by any way, shape, or form. It was a group effort, and I’m just proud of the final product. And perhaps as a father or well, I have to say here’s a side, just a few days ago, we became grandparents for the first time and are very proud and excited about that. And why I bring that up, it’s sort of a similar feeling. We’ve created at ALPS a new project, a new product, called Vera that is real in so many ways to us.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

And I invite you if you’ve not taken the time to explore and look at her a little bit, to do so. It really is intended to be a tool, free, available anytime on demand, online, to share all the insights and learnings intellectual capital we have here at ALPS.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

I have rambled on enough. I will share the link one more time. www.ALPSinsurance.com/vera.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

That’s it folks. I hope you had a little fun listening to me ramble on about the Vera project, and hey, I look forward to having the opportunity to see the numbers change, and hope Vera proves to be a valuable to tool to you as well.

Mark Bassingthwaighte:

Thanks all. Bye. Bye.

 

To take your free Virtual Ethics Risk Assessment today.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email