Mormon missionaries spend two years in a daily struggle against tremendous odds to win converts to the faith.
Those who complete their missions learn to communicate better, be persistent, accept rejection and live a disciplined life. Luckily for Rod Furniss, those lessons learned during his Argentina mission could not have prepared him better for a career in insurance.
“Everyone I talked to said I was crazy to go into the insurance business,” Furniss recalled. “To prove them wrong, the first year I worked four nights a week and I promised my wife I would wean myself down, and each year I worked less.”
Furniss, 60, spends little time on insurance agency matters these days. He has moved into politics and is serving his first term in the Idaho House of Representatives, where he helped push tough rules on annuity sales through a heavily conservative legislature.
Most significantly, the bill requires all indexed annuity advertising to be pre-approved by the Department of Insurance. That measure caused some heartburn for companies, Insurance Commissioner Dean Cameron told colleagues this summer. The rules took effect July 1.
“We were seeing some abuses in the sales industry,” Furniss said.
Although he is a stalwart conservative proud of Idaho’s lack of regulation, Furniss biggest accomplishments during his first term helped expand government oversight. In addition to the annuity bill, he sponsored a bill requiring self-funded health insurance plans to register with the state, and another bill to require vehicle owners to prove they have a registration before they can get insurance.
“While those bills appear to expand government, the monetary savings from each bill actually made business sense for both the state of Idaho and the constituents,” Furniss said. “I call those bills good commonsense business bills. A win-win for Idaho.”
Being a lifelong insurance agent brings a great perspective to the legislature, said Hyatt Erstad, president of Erstad and Co., a Boise-based insurance and employee benefits firm.
“He’s done a really good job,” Erstad said. “I think his background in the insurance industry has helped him be very proactive in the legislature.”
Working The Farm
Furniss was born and raised in Menan, a small town of about 750 residents, tucked into the southeast corner of lower Idaho. It was and remains pure country living.
“I lived five miles from any town,” he said.
Growing up on a remote farm meant a lot of things for teenage Rod Furniss: long workdays carrying buckets of grain for the pigs, tending to up to 2,000 cows and riding horses over hundreds of acres.
It also turned out to be great training for a future insurance agent.
Furniss learned how to work hard and how to work largely by himself. He received lessons in self-sufficiency and perseverance that would later translate to a young agent working tirelessly to build a book of business.
The farming life is about putting in a lot of work toward a reward that comes much later in the form of taking crops to market.
A star quarterback on his high school football team, Furniss went on to play one year for Brigham Young University. Just to go to college was a huge step for Furniss — nobody in his family had done so previously. Like many BYU students, Furniss embraced the challenge of a two-year Mormon mission, accepting an assignment to Buenos Aires.
“It’s quite a life,” Furniss recalled. “But at the end of the day, it’s a character-building experience that helps you communicate with people and understand their needs. We saw a lot of families that were both good families and broken families. It helps you determine what kind of family you want later in life.”
Banking On A Future
After graduating with a degree in business administration and finance, Furniss was hired as a management trainee by a bank. But after one year, he was asked to move to another part of Idaho and he hesitated to leave his family. Then fate intervened and made the decision easier.
“Northwestern Mutual Life recruited me as a commissioned salesperson, and that’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Furniss said. “They had a great training program that mentored me. And I was extremely successful.”
Furniss would build his career at Northwestern Mutual over 25 years. His strategy was simple: meet as many people as possible and work hard. Starting out working four nights a week, he eventually dropped to three and then two. For many additional years, Furniss maintained one night of office hours.
The beginning years are the hardest for any insurance agent. Furniss kept pushing on, determined to build a career one client at a time.
“A lot of work and gut checking goes on during that time in the insurance world,” Furniss said. “I trained insurance agents after a while and I ran a college unit. I would always tell them, ‘If you’re going to go into this business, you need six months of savings and a lot of hard work.’ It’s not just show up. You’ve got to fight to see people and that’s what you do every day.”
The uniquely Idahoan culture benefited him along the way. Home to 1.8 million residents, Idaho is largely rural and conservative, and a heavily farm-reliant state where neighbors rely on one another.
“Reputation does help in Idaho,” Furniss said. “We may be small town, but we’re big potatoes. We have the largest millionaires per capita in the nation. And you can do really well in a small town if you’ll just get out and be part of the community.”
‘People Respond Quite Well’
Furniss certainly did that. He is past president of the Idaho chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the Society of Financial Professionals and other organizations. He also qualified for the Million Dollar Roundtable and the Top of the Table.
Church work and charities such as the Boy Scouts fill free time as well.
It’s not necessarily about looking to sell but, instead, recognizing where friends and neighbors might need your services, Furniss explained.
“Very few people asked you to sell them life insurance,” he noted. “That’s just not something they do. So you’ve got to be bold enough at the end of the day to say, ‘I’d like to review your life insurance in case something were to happen to you.’ People respond to that quite well and appreciate the fact that you’re willing to help their families and their businesses.”
Of course, there are days when being their insurance agent is a welcome relationship. One client in particular had a small child who died. The policy that covered the child was a very small one, costing perhaps $20 a month, but Furniss was able to deliver a large check to the family after the unexpected death.
That money supported the parents financially and they adopted more children.
“I followed that family and watched those children grow up and become prominent people in the community,” Furniss said.
Anchoring his main office in Idaho Falls, population 63,000, Furniss married his wife, Jan, right after college. They have five children — four daughters and a son. A career in life insurance also lends itself to having a large family, Furniss said.
“I’ve been able to coach all my children in soccer, basketball, football. I’ve never missed a game,” he said. “I’ve been able to attend every event. I’ve always been my own boss. I just don’t think people realize that if they step out just a little bit, they can have that time off later.”
After 25 years with Northwestern Mutual, Furniss moved to Prudential for two years before cutting all ties and becoming a fully independent agent. Today, his business book is dominated by group and individual health insurance policyholders, but he retains about 2,000 individual life insurance clients.
He has a second office in Rexburg, Idaho, and offers financial planning, and has even branched out into property development. Two sons-in-law help run aspects of the Furniss family businesses.
A lifelong Republican, Furniss became active in the state GOP when a committee seat opened up. Or so he thought. It turns out it was not a vacant seat at all, but Furniss had challenged a sitting committee member.
“I left my name on the ballot just to see if I got elected and I won that election,” he said. “I didn’t campaign. I just put my name out there and then I was elected.”
After a few years on the Republican Central Committee, Furniss was asked to run for the state House of Representatives in 2018.
“I’ve always been a ‘yes’ person,” Furniss said. “Every time someone asks me to serve, I always try to step up and help as much as I can. I probably need to learn to say ‘no’ just a little bit more.”
In a tight primary race, Furniss bested incumbent Karey Hanks, 4,271-4,004. He breezed to a general election win, and again in the primary this year, winning nearly 69% of the Republican vote.
The annuity sales bill came about fairly quickly earlier this year. Furniss introduced the bill on Feb. 20 and Gov. Brad Little signed it on March 20. Furniss said he “is not opposed” to indexed annuities, but most likely would redirect a client to a variable or fixed annuity.
The penalties make indexed annuities difficult to recommend, he said. There were also concerns over advertising promising unrealistic returns, he added.
“We were seeing some return on investments that weren’t much better than fixed annuities,” Furniss said. “A lot of the people had expectations that they would get an 8% or 9% rate of return, when in reality they were getting a 1% to 3% or a 1% to 4% return.”
In addition, the bill introduces new annuity sale disclosures and timelines for delivery of those documents. It also limits surrender periods to 10-year maximum, and bans annuities with surrender charges that exceed 10% in the first year and decrease by 1% per year.
“We were starting to see some contracts that have extended surrender charges in them, and people probably weren’t understanding the different caps and things that were available to them,” Furniss said.
For now, it’s campaign season and Furniss is a huge favorite to win a second term. His website espouses conservative positions — traditional marriage and Second Amendment gun rights, for example — and Furniss doesn’t plan to end his political career anytime soon.
“As long as I can continue to be useful in the legislature,” he said, “I’m probably going to continue to run for office.”