Statement of purpose

I used to think you had to have an answer to the “what is your 5-year plan?” question, but I don’t anymore. Instead, I like to think about what I’ll believe in 5 years from now. I think a lot about how best to express what our business stands for. Why do we do what we do? Why does it matter?

You can read our list of core values here but I’d like to say a few more things about them. First, I feel there’s nobility in curiosity when it’s directed toward a genuine interest in what matters to other people. When you have affection for the enthusiasms of others and offer encouragement by presenting people with your appetite for learning about them, I believe that’s a mission.

When you put down the rule book and the standard templates of typical responses and solutions to solving problems, you improve your chances of advocacy that puts other people first. I’m so turned off by our industry’s proclivity to go fishing for the client that fits the Product & Eligibility Guide and my industry is running headlong into irrelevance by too slowly responding to what people actually need and do. I feel we provide some respite by being small and having autonomy and authority to literally do whatever we feel we should in order to solve an issue.

Being of high quality and caliber means that you don’t shoot from the hip. You study, you hone your craft, you consider yourself not-yet-done so you keep investing in yourself, and you shun the standard metrics of how the masses measure each other. Families expect us to know a very complicated instrument that one day may stop them from suffering financial ruin. That’s a big deal and why that responsibility is too often answered by peers who focus their efforts on performing well in total written premium, customer retention, loss ratio, and new policy sales is beyond me. I’ll argue that the expert who gives free advice to 5 families because it’s the right thing to do is of higher caliber than the superstar agent who sells 400 policies a year.

I think most of our core values are answered by a compulsion to put someone else first. John, Jim, and I express it in different ways because we have different contributions to make to our firm, but I can honestly attest that I’ve not been around an organization that, as a daily occurrence, gets together to talk about how best to apply ourselves for the betterment of someone who’s put their trust in us. That’s not boasting, that’s just an observation that I wish I knew how to make transparently visible to everyone. It’s been a part of the Mechelsen family culture and I’m proud to be a part of that.

So I don’t know what the business plan looks like and I don’t know what we’ll accomplish, but I know that we’ll continue to have a genuine interest in what matters to other people, an insatiable appetite for learning, a rugged defense of our individualism, and a work ethic to put words like this into action. Know | Act | Grow

Your decision, your reward

The populist’s complaint that insurance companies never want to pay claims isn’t true – insurance companies need losses to support their own existence.  If your car never crashes, your house never burns, and your pipes never leak, what’s the need for insurance?  And yet a family’s goal, and that of society, should be the adoption of technology and strategies where cars can avoid accidents, where homes can’t burn, where computers shut off leaking pipes, and where cyberattacks are stopped before they begin. 

Although technology and good ideas are moving in that direction, I’m impatient.  I know technology will give families more control over their own exposure to risk, but I want to give technology a complementary partner of individual behaviors that reduce our own risk.  If I know that my home is safer if I shut off my water before vacation, I want control over that decision.  If I know my identity is safer if I change my wifi password every 30 days, I want control over that decision.  If I know that my home is safer if I clean my roof and gutters every year, I want control over that decision. And I want the reward for my good decisions to be daily real-time pricing of my insurance based on me and what I did to affect risk today, not participation in reactive mass pricing.  And I also want transparency in showing me not only why my cost for risk is what it is, but a display of where my opportunities for reductions lie.

We’re not likely to get that from the status quo.  As told to me by an insurance company executive “if people’s behaviors lead to more losses, raising premiums for everyone is our only response”.  And he wasn’t being obtuse, he was being correct if the only option we have is the reactive nature of the insurance industry.  The solution for the alternative to insurance is to figure out a way to never need them, not just need them less. 

So I imagine a different future where we know a benchmark of safe behavior and we can measure the difference between us and that benchmark which is how the cost for our insurance is calculated (or maybe where we get access to better coverages and guarantees).  And then, imagine if all of that is reported to us so we can adjust and manage our behaviors on a daily basis to maximize our own defense.   We have this technology now.  We need more applications of it for tomorrow.  This isn’t merely conceptual, it just needs a louder champion.

Reorder > return to normal

I’m thankful for many things and a few of those came in 2020. There is no argument that some people have experienced an unfair share of suffering. And there is no argument that a desire to return to normal is attractive. But there are a few things I’ve learned this year that I don’t want to remove from my experience and I hope they shape the way I improve myself in the years to come.

I don’t want to remove the relational poverty felt during the more acute periods of quarantine. Missing my friends and family have made me appreciate the ease with which I’ve had access to people who care about me and I don’t want to take that for granted anymore.

I don’t want to remove the intimacy of time spent with my immediate family and the comfort that came from huddling-up when that’s all we had. The loyalty and reliance on my wife, our daughters, and our sons-in-law deepened our connection and I like it.

I don’t want to remove confrontations about the realities of systemic racism. Hard truths about other people’s pain and anger make me want to get off the bench. Same can be said about human trafficking, refugee camps, educational poverty, MeToo, and a list of other injustices that’s too long. I don’t want to live self-centeredly.

I don’t want to remove the grit and resilience put on display by so many people – notably among the younger generation – in caring for others, starting new endeavors, and finding love. Our oldest daughter married the most wonderful guy and our youngest daughter got engaged to the other most wonderful guy. The benefit of life’s most important decision x 2 in one family is more fortune than I deserve and it’s inspiring.

So I’m looking forward to something different in 2021, but not something that looks like 2019. I want to be moved by the experiences of this year so that any period of reorder is better than it was before.

Hope, Encouragement, Remedy

If things you worry about interfere with a sense of contentment, we may be a source of hope.  If you sense there’s more to your purpose but find it hard to let go of things which might be holding you back, we may be a source of encouragement.  If you’ve not addressed some things that would otherwise give you license to take more of the good kind of risks, we may be a source of remedy.

These won’t be remembered as the halcyon days, but they will be remembered by some as the re-order days.  Days when a new vision for a hoped-for life are formed.  Days when priorities are re-articulated.  Days when “winning” might mean something different than what you previously believed.

If you’re that kind of get-to-work person, then we are ready to get down to that same kind of business with you.  We don’t believe you get to prevent all challenges, risks, and loss, but we do know that confronting them with a plan that mitigates and responds should free you to pursue the things you care most about.

We are presently engaged with clients worried about protecting income, defending against cyber theft and privacy invasion, securing their home, staying physically and emotionally active, reacting to job changes that have left them without the same benefits, and moving family members back into the home, each one intending to liberate the worry so happiness can be pursued.

Less Worry | More Happy, indeed!

It’s because I believe that worry and negativity are bad for us that I feel a passion for designing plans that deal with the risks and threats facing families and individuals.  Our Less Worry | More Happy mantra is aspirational in that it captures how we believe we should be living.

But I admit to being a sufferer of worry.  It’s not easy for me to have confidence in the face of things I can’t control.  It’s not easy for me to not get upset about things I see as injustices.  It’s not easy for me to feel comfortable that things don’t always need my hand in fixing.  And as I gather experiences working with families and other advisors, I get a sense that I’m not alone in these feelings.

And I also am becoming more aware of the underlying hum of generalized negativity propagated by those who have made fear profitable, whether for money or power.  The general divisiveness over what used to be considered facts, the apparent inability to say to someone with whom you disagree “yeah, that’s a good point”, the loss of any grey area as we try to draw clear dividing lines on everything, and the volume and constancy of doom and vitriol spread from media pumphouses who apparently can only sell the banal all contribute to a malaise and a relational poverty that leaves us isolated and tribal.

So I’m offering here what works for me as the start of how I refocus my mind on what I should be focusing on, and how I train myself to be more positive, supportive and conditioned to act instead of just stewing in worry.

Biggest Threats to Successful Families

Inspired by an article in Worth magazine (, I’d like to chime-in and affirm with my list of the biggest threats facing wealthy families.  

  1. Cybersecurity (theft, fraud, stalking, bullying, ransom, bodily injury)
  2. Personal security
  3. Travel (cyber, personal safety, medical)
  4. Climate-related losses (wildfire, flood, non-flood water intrusion, wind)
  5. Relationships (broken trust, isolation)
  6. Lawsuits

We treat these as real and serious because the goal is to control them in such a way as to be liberated from worry so attention can be paid to what life should be made of – more happiness!

Photo:  Polson, MT

Respond vs. Prevent

I see families of the future having different risk management choices than they do today.  Today, you can buy an insurance contract that promises to help you pay for certain losses for certain limits under certain conditions.  Buy it, put it on the shelf, wait for the loss, then see if it applies.

But as an alternative (or complement), I believe the day is fast approaching when you’ll have the ability to subscribe to a service that will predict and help prevent a loss from ever happening.  Buy it, adopt it’s guidance into your daily behaviors, and avoid the loss.

The reason I think this is going to happen is because people I speak with who are entrenched in the insurance industry don’t seem intrigued by the prospect of being in the alternative group.  And people I speak with who are outside of the insurance industry believe they can do a better job of predicting the future in order to lead you toward a desired outcome, unlike those who sell passive products.

The second group believes you’ll prefer to prevent the loss and need less insurance.  The people in the first group don’t think it’s worth the effort.  I don’t know who will “win”, but my experience tells me that when the new kid feels they can outdo the elder and the elder says “huh?”, change is already underway.

Photo:  Seattle, WA

Slow it down

Insurance agents and insurance companies have made big mistakes trying to convince consumers that insurance is easy, can be handled with simplicity, and takes only a few minutes.  Do you believe insurance policies are easy to read?  Do you know that sometimes what’s on page 20 changes what you thought was covered on page 3?  Does it scare you that 15 minutes to save on premium might impact whether a claim gets paid down the road?

We believe that trying to convince people that being able to print your own auto ID cards is more important than understanding your coverages is wrong.  We believe that listening to someone say that you can save money in only a few minutes while leaving you with huge holes in your coverage is wrong.  We believe that paying attention to anyone whose solution is an off-the-shelf product that they apply to everyone is wrong.

Instead, we say SLOW DOWN.  Treat your insurance decision like the major financial consideration that it is.  Remember that the test of whether you chose correctly will be judged in the future when you have a claim, not when you pay the premium bill.  And choose wisely from whom you will get advice.  Who wants to get to know you best?  Who will tell you the bad news and still stand up for you and not just be there for the sale?  Who wants to visit you in-person and at your home?

We believe the most important thing you can do is choose your advisor wisely and take your time.

Photo:  Amber McGraw  –  Flathead Lake, MT

A Fiduciary’s Response

Most all of the wealth advisors I’m fortunate to know and work with consider the fiduciary standard as the only real standard by which they’d ever want to work.  I would imagine my friends face particular difficulty responding as a fiduciary to the question “what insurance do I need?” because a) most of the expertise in insurance rests with agents (meaning they can’t be fiduciaries), b) insurance contracts are confusing (dare to read your own policies?), and c) the rating and underwriting of most insurance companies are neither transparent, nor intuitive.

The generally-accepted response to this difficulty is for a wealth advisor to align with an agent who does good work and then expect their clients to be well-advised and well-serviced, which works great when the client is new and the insurance-review is new and the policies are new.  But there’s danger to the fiduciary the day after new insurance policies are written because 9 times out of 10 they’ll be the first ones to learn of a situation where their clients have put their insurance in jeopardy, and have they developed the process to notice and handle it as the fiduciary standard might require?

I’ve kept track of 45 recent occurrences (I have a list to share with whomever wants it) when a family did something that put their insurance in jeopardy and we just happened to learn about it.  This means that in the time before we knew and responded, there was a problem that, had there been a claim, no one would’ve been happy.  The point is, I believe the secret to a better fiduciary response to a family’s insurance needs isn’t for fiduciaries to become agents and vice versa, it’s for a process to be adopted within a fiduciary firm that can identify, catch and respond to the everyday occurrences that ruin insurance coverage because insurance is way too complicated.  This is my latest passion and endeavor.

In the most admirable way, fiduciary advisors work for the best interests of their clients and as a by-product, wind up carrying more hidden business risk than they realize just by not recognizing the consequential severity of those everyday occurrences.  The blame lies with my industry for creating barriers that would otherwise make insurance easier to understand and address.

Photo: Joshua Tree, CA