Barb Furr: Building out from the core
With four decades in the industry, Barb Furr is no stranger to core conversions. Her first experience involved translating a completely paper-based process into computer code during the early 1980s, for the St. Paul Companies.
After landing an underwriting department job in the mid-1970s, Furr identified significant career potential in technology. “I was strong at math and logic,” recalls the VP for product operations for MetLife Auto & Home. “So I took some computer programming courses, which resulted in an entry level IT position.”
At St. Paul, Furr was tapped to help lead the insurer’s inaugural foray into computerizing policy admin. “We created a new platform that introduced new technology for its time,” she says. “It was very different than the transformation to digital we’re undergoing today.”
Eventually St. Paul’s personal insurance business was acquired by MetLife, and Furr has been tasked with leading Met360. This accelerated, multi-year initiative involves transitioning to Guidewire’s hosted suite, replacing numerous systems dating back decades, to become entirely Guidewire cloud-based.
“We’re re-platforming our entire technology stack to eliminate our legacy systems,” she says. “We started in early last year and we expect to transition all policyholders by 2022.”
Although the ability to steer such a massive effort stems from Furr’s successively more advanced leadership positions, a formative one stands out. At the turn of the millennium she moved out of IT to head a regional business unit.
“Leading the 200-associate regional sales, underwriting and servicing unit changed my thinking around how to manage many levels of people while improving our regional results,” she says. “For the first time, I had to think about taking the business multiple years into the future and what we needed to do each year to get us there.”
Today, Furr is responsible for nearly 170 employees and roots her leadership in flexibility. This enables her to participate or manage as the situation requires. “For any given initiative, it depends on what the team needs, how experienced they are at decision-making and the urgency of the project,” she says.
With Met360, this means creating a strong vision and providing guidance for the various teams to execute. “As it’s too large a project for one person to control it all, my role is oversight and governance,” she says.
Another recent project was just the opposite. When Hyundai Capital approached MetLife Auto & Home about bundling insurance products with automobile leases, Furr was hands-on for the provider’s role in Hyundai Plus. In addition to providing a strategic vision, she applied her expertise to structuring the program, meeting state compliance requirements, establishing a pricing strategy, standing up the offering internally and overseeing the development of a mobile app for leasing customers.
Other Furr wins include the 2015 launch of MetLife MyDirect Auto, which made MetLife Auto & Home the first U.S. P&C insurer to offer a complete digital experience, from quotes to claims. Within 14 months, MyDirect’s availability expanded to 25 states. “MyDirect not only addresses customer experience expectations but also served as a Met360 entry project,” she says.
Having benefited from multiple mentors, Furr has a strong formal and informal mentoring record herself. A few of her formal activities include MetLife’s Global Learning and Development Program, INROADs interns, Developing Women’s Career Experience and the Women’s Business Network.
When considering all of her own mentors, she says the most important one assisted her with becoming an effective change agent.
“He helped me see that people grow masterful at their work, which makes it psychologically hard to do things differently,” she says. “He showed me that it’s critical to spend time caring about what a change means in people’s daily activities – whether it’s processes, procedures or technology – and then helping them understand the “what” and the “why” rather than just “how” you want things done.”
As Furr’s considerable talents could’ve led her away from insurance years ago, she credits the industry’s “noble purpose” with inspiring her to stay. “Very few other types of industries operate in with spirit of helping people put their lives back together again, she explains.