Friday, 30 November 2007

Have Sponsors, Need Inventory

Advertising on Advisen Front Page News works.

Among our returning sponsors, FM Global buys through Ogilvy & Mather because of the results.

The next stage in developing this growing revenue stream for Advisen is to spawn new inventory. Social media applications can help and I was encouraged about the pace of adoption this post from Marketing Week.

As a goal for our product development and ad sales team it's possible, that just like Adivsen published the first social network for the commercial insurance industry, that Advisen will take the first social-media advertising buy in the commercial insurance industry.

Proliferating Plaintiffs

Thanks to comments to this blog by Ed Vincent, Advisen's Product Manager, I was made aware that our database of sub-prime related suits has swelled from 47 as announced in the Daily Telegraph on Monday to 73 as of yesterday.

Being in an overseas office I don't hear the office chatter or sales calls talking about these amazing developments in our product. Little did I know that my blog would serve to keep me updated by colleagues in New York who read it.

In relating the news about more subprime cases to my customers this morning, my favorite comment was from an underwriter who said, "Mason. Many thanks for the update. The claims are building quite nicely. Unfortunately it is having no effect on premiums yet!" Comments from Risk Managers did not use the term "unfortunately" ...

Recent actions include the following (defendant and type of action):

The Bear Stearns Companies Inc. (Derivative Shareholder Action)
HSBC Holdings Plc (Breach of Contract)
The Bear Stearns Companies Inc. (Securities Fraud)
Fremont General Corporation (Banking Malpractice)
Barclays Capital (Breach of Contract)
Credit Suisse (USA), Inc. (Securities Fraud)
The Bank of New York Company, Inc. (Securities Fraud)
State Street Corporation (ERISA Class Action)
First Franklin Financial Corporation (Fraudulent Trade Practices)
HSBC Finance Corporation (Fraudulent Trade Practices)
Washington Mutual, Inc. (Fraudulent Trade Practices)

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Just Do It

In the couple of weeks since I started blogging:

1) A colleague at Advisen started a blog to promote a series of educational initiatives for our subscribers. Very little of our freely-available content shows up in Google searches. Blogging allows us to target particular niches of the insurance industry with relevant content and to offer sponsors additional ways to connect with our audience. We are also looking to link to other bloggers with great content relevant to commercial insurance professionals.

2) I relayed an idea to Fred Wilson who's AVC Blog I read daily and Fred responded with a nice note.

You have to start somewhere and I can see more of where it can lead.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Piece of Cake

Getting a successful internet start-up from idea to execution sounds easy these days. It's not. Just when you have dug in with late nights and long weeks to deliver a project, you dig deeper to deliver the next one. You have to believe, despite hearing "no" a lot.

Having just finished reading "1776" I'm struck by the parallel ups-and-downs with the early days of the business. Apparently George Washington's most-used word in motivating his officers was "perseverance".

Steve Carpenter married my stepsister and has believed in his manifest destiny to found a successful internet business. After Harvard Business School, Steve brought an idea to market and I congratulate him for his perseverance in launching Cake Financial. See their write-up in Forbes here.

Subprime cases near 50

I was quoted in an article on the front page of the Business section in today's Daily Telegraph (a national daily newspaper in the UK with circulation just over 900,000) about the proliferation of lawsuits stemming from the U.S. subprime meltdown. This is a fast-developing story you can follow on Advisen Front Page News.

The story picks up on how Moody's and S&P have been targeted for assigning "excessively high ratings to bonds backed by risky sub-prime mortgages". All of the source material for this article came from our database of nearly 7,000 significant cases that impact the commercial insurance industry.

Pride in a portfolio company

As the year comes to a close we as a society go list-crazy. Not to miss out on the fun, I just noted that Web Connectivity, Advisen's first corporate investment, has achieved a well-known client list including 4 Fortune 250 companies and 6 FTSE 250 companies.

Web Connectivity is the leading provider of ACORD messaging solutions (gateways).

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Service in the UK

In a country where 75% of GDP is from the "service sectors" (the other 24% is in "industry" and 1% in "agriculture"), we're consistently appalled at the poor level of service in the UK.

For example, when we moved here it took 5 weeks to get cable installed. When the cable guys called to say that they were finally coming, they announced that if they got a parking ticket they would bill me for it.

Or today, I called British Gas because I have paid my bills yet have received a string of letters, the latest threatening legal action against me. Turns out that they had created a new (and incorrect) account and that my original account was not only current, but I was ahead on payments. At least there was an apology.

Then BT calls just as I'm explaining this situation to a friend. BT wants to "improve their levels of service" and asked about a recent service request I had made of BT (which I told him had actually gone well). When he heard it had been my intern who had made the request, and not me, he didn't say anything, he just hung up. I feel reassured that he'll be the one training new service reps at BT.

There just isn't enough competition here among service providers.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

America's Next Export: Class Action Suits?

Advisen co-founder and head of market research Dave Bradford recently reported on the trends towards plaintiffs ability to bringing security class action suits in Europe.

Global underwriter Zurich produced a tremendous conference to educate its customers on the subject of insuring Directors & Officers globally. If you haven't spoken with panelist Francis Kean, a Partner in the Insurance practice of law firm Barlow, Lyde & Gilberg, you are missing a unique combination of smarts, perspective & sociability.

In explaining how the UK is moving faster than most countries in adopting US-style class actions, Francis explained the ramifications of the new Companies Act and in particular Section 172. See an article in today's Insurance Insider for more.

Speaking to many

Atop my list of reasons why social media helps in measurable ways is how easy one speaks with many. Key to Bloomberg's success was our key which enabled bond salesperson communication with many customers simultaneously.

Today I saw another great example of this from Advisen's PR all star. Patrick Ward and his team at 104West represent a series of new customers. Using the technology from one of these new firms (Goldmail), Patrick sent a video by e-mail with voice-over a slide show talking about these clients and proudly showing off his new offices and growing team. It was very effective communication.

Among the new customers was Hivelive which offers white-labeled social media applications for plug-in and they appear to stand out in a crowd because their tools enable the readers to configure the social media apps rather than the publishers.

It just goes to show that because I respect Patrick's views, I took the time to look at all 7 of the new clients mentioned. Patrick, if he took the time to think it through, would realize Advisen would be interested in some of these. New media/social media saved him that time and maybe gave HiveLive a lead.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Efficiency measured

Glen Carey, a most innovative member of our sales staff, has landed a new brokerage client for Advisen by showing to the head of the office of a regional broker in the US a worksheet that proves that if a member of his staff used Advisen that they would cut 75% of their time comparing insurance underwriter coverage terms for customers.

If the broker only used Advisen twice per week, they would pay for their entire annual subscription through this cost savings, not to mention the opportunity cost from using the saved time on new business or additional customer retention activity.

Advisen is used by nearly 200 retail and wholesale brokerage firms.

Tail wagging the dog

At the recent ACORD Forum in London, Alex Letts, the high-profile CEO of RI3K, commented about how he wished the ACORD standards would be frozen for awhile, that there have been too many changes. Further, Alex said that the London market slip that brokers bring around to underwriters should be frozen.

Roger Townsend, head of Xchanging Ins-Sure Services, disagreed from the same panel and the crowd was also aghast. Andy Brookes of the Market Reform Programme Office asked if we hadn't moved on from the IT tail wagging the business dog.

Imagine my surprise today at reading an article on the subject in the Insurance Times. Why did Alex push this?

In an industry that is so clearly in need of change and where the market is constantly reacting to the evolving needs of corporate clients, how could the slip be frozen?

Web Connectivity and other vendors don't have trouble keeping up with the ACORD standards.

Facebook as a business debate

Two people I respect greatly have recently commented about Facebook and really all social networking. Eliot Pierce who has been a force for good at NY Times Online says he's in the "Facebook is not a business" camp.

Alan Meckler, CEO of Jupitermedia, blogged about about it here pointing out that value will be in vertical social networking (see my earlier post about sphinn). Alan has made a number of fortunes by providing targeted information to niche audiences and brokering this audience to relevant sponsors. I suggested to Alan that he should start or buy a site that would appeal to interactive marketers who are beginning to include social networks in their media buys (agencies are assigning full-time specialists to them). Generally Alan is skeptical about the true (and long-term) value of generalist sites like Facebook.

Have a look at the discussion thread following a post by Fred Wilson which reinforces Alan's point.

There is no seamless approach to anything these days. Key to technology project success is proper stitching of the seams based on thoughtful planning. The same will hold true with social media - it will be the social middleware that will enable vertical communities to reach outside "the club" as needed. How the middleware providers make money while the networks own the page views is beyond me at this point.

The Monty Hall of Search Marketing?

And behind Door Number Three...

Chris Elwell and Danny Sullivan, colleagues while at establishing Search Engine Strategies as the runaway leader in the space, have teamed up to start a new network of information websites and associated trade shows for marketing professionals.

Third Door Media debuted its fast-growing Search Marketing Expo series in London last week.

We got to spend Friday night with Chris re-telling our favorite stories (we didn't even get to the one about the ad salesguy at who regularly wore black leather pants to the office - a clear sign of the end of the bubble that we clearly missed).

I'm now looking at sphinn which is packed with content generated by search engine/interactive marketers - a great example of a business application of social media.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Could criminals be that dumb?

Credit card fraud has happened to us twice in one year since moving to London. This time it won't take Sherlock Holmes to catch the person.

The genius who got his hands on my credit card info used it to buy some mail order items through their cable box, to pay for his congestion charges, and to pay off some car or life insurance. With all of these easily tied back to a person if the police were to look into it, the only question is will they bother or will HSBC just eat the £1000.

Friday, 16 November 2007

News for the commercial insurance professional

Front Page News by Advisen, a daily news service with 75,000 subscribers, is evolving.

This week we framed it within the information and analytics platform navigation as a first step towards contextual linking from the hugely-popular news stories to relevant data and analytics in the subscriber-only areas of

We also envision adding additional content from other sources (blogs) and user-generated content (comments, discussion forums, social networking for business, etc.). In this way we can offer news-only subscribers to further research based on their market niche. Yesterday Dave Panos, Founder & CEO, of Pluck came by our London office to discuss how his service could help with both of these. Would you suggest any other providers?