Marissa Buckley: Building from the ground up

An ability to find ways to unlock hidden value and do more with less is a hallmark of Marissa Buckley’s career. In her position as VP of marketing and brand experience for Security First Insurance, a Florida-based writer of homeowners and renters insurance, Buckley has formed the digital alliances and built the staff needed to operate a next-generation insurance company in a challenging market.

“My position is about interactions with people,” she says. “In terms of brand experience and marketing, that entails interactions digitally and in-person with customers. But it’s also defining our culture from a workplace standpoint, and learning and developing that has been hugely challenging, but in a good way.”

Buckley joined Security First in 2008, when the company only had 25 employees. Today, it has 350, and she has been central to managing that growth and enabling the additional resources to better serve the company’s customers. That includes management of enterprise projects – Buckley was a key collaborator in the company’s core systems migration, which provided the backbone for digital distribution (10% of new business) and more than doubled the amount of customers using online payments.

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“We have a imperative that says we have a user experience component to almost every product,” she explains. “It made it a natural fit for us [the marketing organization] to collaborate and oversee the user experience design and development of new systems.”

Her role isn’t superficial. Buckley helped drive the company’s conversion to Agile development as a way of preserving its nimble startup origins.

“The company balances not having too much structure with being flexible enough to change direction when needed,” she says. “But we’re going through a huge growth stage, so we have to maintain and leverage that startup mentality and work a little differently based on a project’s needs.”

And she does more than just strategy, with a hands-on approach that led to her, for example, writing the script for and directing the onboarding video that goes to all new customers. Buckley says that with rapid growth it’s important to define the cultural priorities for the company both for employees and policyholders.

“I love that part of it because I’m integrated with the team. We hired over 100 employees within one year, and we needed to define our culture and make more prominent who we are,” she says. “We always work to continually improve and provide a great experience. Now that we know that about ourselves.”

New employee development is a important charge for Buckley. She co-sponsored the company’s Lean In initiative providing men and women in the organization with techniques to overcome biases and increase emotional intelligence, and holds one-on-one meetings with her direct reports whenever possible.

“We needed to revamp the onboarding experience for employees. Not just go over benefits, but go over the background of who we are, and how we transformed as a company,” she says. “I thought, ‘What’s the best way I could communicate to an employee who has no insurance experience,’ we set the stage up front, that the industry is changing rapidly and we have to evolve faster to stay ahead of competition. As long as it brings value to the organization, and it’s something that can be implemented, we do it.”

Security First focuses on recruiting out of college, Buckley says, but just in getting a young group to become passionate about the possibilities in insurance. Most of the company’s management team – Buckley included – is female, and she sees it as an opportunity to lead by example.

“One of the things I think about more often now is my daughter as she starts her career, and I can tell her, ‘I’ve been through that situation,’” she says. “When she asks, ‘What did you do?’ I want to have a good answer for her.”

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