RISK MANAGERS EXPLORE OPTIONS AS RISKWEB'S DAYS NUMBEREDPosted On: Aug. 23, 1998 12:00 AM CST
RISKWeb is dead. Long live RISKWeb.
The popular electronic discussion forum for risk managers, unceremoniously unplugged Aug. 13, was brought back online late last week but only for a limited time so subscribers can plan a successor forum.
RISKWeb owner InsWeb Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., intends to sack the 5-year-old service for good after Sept. 30. RISKWeb operated as both an Internet mailing list, distributing e-mail postings to subscribers as they were made, and a Web site -- www.riskweb.com -- where submissions were archived.
Late last week, a small group of subscribers already had identified a couple of potential sponsors for a successor forum.
One is William R. Storie & Co. Ltd., a Bermuda-based insurance consulting firm that created one of several interim mailing lists made available to risk managers within days after RISKWeb shut down.
Risk managers last week were using the Storie mailing list to begin sorting out their alternatives. To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To continue networking with peers on daily risk management issues, many risk managers turned to the mailing list that the Public Risk Management Assn. opened up to all risk managers for the next month or so. Risk managers can subscribe to PRIMA's mailing list by sending an e-mail with the message "subscribe PRIMA-Talk" to email@example.com.
Some observers questioned the wisdom of permanently linking the forum with any industry-related commercial enterprise. An educational institution would be a better alternative, they contend, because such a sponsor likely would not be tempted to promote products and services.
At least one school, the University of Arizona in Tucson, is exploring the feasibility of sponsoring the e-mail forum, confirmed Steve Holland, director of risk management and safety at the university.
Meanwhile, a group of risk managers, financial officers and academicians in Europe are planning a forum for professionals involved in operational and financial risk and public policy, according to H. Felix Kloman. The group has asked Mr. Kloman, a former Tillinghast consultant and now the Lyme, Conn.-based editor of the Risk Management Reports newsletter, to help set up and run the forum. Mr. Kloman said he hopes it will be online within two months.
However the situation shakes out, risk managers are committed to keeping their forum alive, several subscribers said.
The new forum, though, will not be known as RISKWeb. InsWeb will retain its right to that name, an InsWeb spokesman said.
InsWeb shut off RISKWeb 11 days ago without notice, after deciding over the past few months that it did not fit into the company's business plan. InsWeb is an online comparison shopping service for buyers of personal lines coverage.
The spokesman would not discuss whether the free service was a money-losing operation.
Several risk managers said they would pay a reasonable fee to keep the mailing list service alive. Paid subscriptions, though, could chase away those who float in and out of the forum, said Dave Parker, director of risk management for Pima County, Ariz.
Privately held InsWeb purchased RISKWeb in March 1996, when InsWeb was less than a year old. That same year, InsWeb hired the forum's creator, James R. Garven.
Asked why InsWeb purchased the service, the spokesman said only that the company sharpened its business focus on the consumer market about 11 months after the purchase.
Mr. Garven would not discuss in detail the circumstances surrounding RISKWeb's sale. However, he said InsWeb supported the service's continued development and management while he was the company's vp of economic analysis and product research from 1996 until earlier this year.
Mr. Garven created the forum while he was a professor at the University of Texas in Austin. He moderated the forum from its inception, when it was called RISKNet, until it went dark. Mr. Garven now is a professor in the finance department at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
RISKWeb's subscriber list grew from a couple hundred people in the service's early days to 2,300 worldwide in November 1997. More recent figures were unavailable.
Several of RISKWeb's subscribers said they are indebted to Mr. Garven for creating the risk management communication tool. They said it quickly became indispensable because of the quality and immediacy of information it provided. Rather than spending hours researching problems, subscribers could send e-mails asking questions relating specifically to their organizations and move onto other work while awaiting responses. Within hours, risk management experts worldwide would reply, addressing many sides of the issues.
"That's why I was so heartsick when I heard the thing was going off the air," said Kevin M. Quinley, senior vp-risk services for MEDMARC Mutual Insurance Co. of Fairfax, Va.
"It's the staff that's never gone," observed Heidi M. Vulcano, director of risk management for New York-based Alper Holdings USA Inc., a privately held holding company that has, among other things, ink manufacturing and real estate development holdings.
Risk managers said they understood InsWeb's business decision to drop the service.
But, they did not understand why they were not warned. "It only would have taken three minutes to do an e-mail," said Mr. Quinley, noting the irony of the situation.
"It seems not only irresponsible but also a bit cruel," said Janna S. Maxey, risk manager for the Baptist Foundation of Arizona in Phoenix, a non-profit organization with several for-profit subsidiaries.
"We apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused people," the InsWeb spokesman said.
After receiving numerous calls and e-mails from RISKWeb subscribers, InsWeb said it would revive the forum temporarily, beginning last Friday, so subscribers would have a meeting place to develop an alternative forum.
But, for "legal reasons," InsWeb will not release or sell the service's subscription list, the spokesman said.
Some risk managers said that will hurt their chances for notifying all subscribers about a new forum if many subscribers do not learn about RISKWeb's temporary revival.
But, InsWeb planned on e-mailing RISKWeb subscribers to inform them the service was back for a while, the spokesman said.
And, the company is "working very closely" with Mr. Garven, who will help develop a new list, the spokesman said.
Mr. Garven, though, indicated his role would be more passive, because of his responsibilities at LSU. He said he would participate in online discussions. "But, if nothing happens, I don't want to be blamed," he said.
Subscribers also were unclear and concerned about the future of the RISKWeb discussions that Mr. Garven had archived for subscribers' use. Several said the archives were their intellectual property, not InsWeb's property.
InsWeb is "hoping" to make the archives available, the spokesman said. But that will depend on the company's ability to sort out legal issues involving privacy and copyrights, he said.
Some subscribers envisioned little trouble there. They said they would not oppose InsWeb releasing material that identified them and their e-mail addresses. And, Mr. Parker noted, RISKWeb never allowed subscribers to post copyrighted material.