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From army life to life insurance - a big gun leaves the industry

Graeme Lindsay's long career in the life insurance industry may never have even begun if it was not for an unfortunate medical emergency when he was just 15-years-old.

Saturday, April 10th 2021, 4:15PM 14 Comments

by Matthew Martin

Graeme Lindsay

Lindsay is in the final stages of wrapping up his 54-year career as an adviser but his original career of choice was a long way removed from insurance when he joined the army as a cadet back in 1965.

Soon after joining up he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and went through a course of radiotherapy.

"I was lucky because they identified it early and I was able to be treated...unfortunately the army didn't want to know me at that point and I was medically discharged."

The next step was enrolling at university where he studied applied mathematics and chemistry but failed his exams due to ongoing hospital treatment.

So, by late 1966 he decided to focus on long-term employment and applied for a clerical job at an insurance company, "I got appointed, and here we are 54 years later".

"I knew diddly squat about life insurance, but I had a brain in my head and I was good with numbers...so I started with the MLC Insurance company in Auckland.

"I railed against the fact a guy who was a couple of years ahead of me at secondary school was employed in the same office and being paid more than me.

"But, the quality of the training, the quality of product and the quality of the people were far better and I learned a lot."

"I was teaching him to do the job at which I was competent and he knew nothing about and I thought this was bollocks, I wanted to be paid what I was worth, not on an age scale.

"So I spoke to a few people and ended up starting in Whangarei in January 1969 at age 20."

It was a tough first few years for Lindsay but he persevered and eventually found a company that aligned with his principles.

"In those days it was all pretty basic, we didn't have any decent product and it wasn't easy at all," he says.

He then moved back to Auckland after another year up north.

"I determined the company was not up to the standards I wanted to set for myself so I changed to National Mutual.

"Back then we were all tied agents and the notion of moving from one insurer to another was not looked upon favourably.

"But, the quality of the training, the quality of product and the quality of the people were far better and I learned a lot."

One of his early industry mentors was Ken Armour - who had a Masters Degree in English and history - "Ken was a thinker".

"His thesis  - was the cardinal reason for saving was to have an income in old age, he related everything in the insurance world to income.

"It was all about replacing income - sort of stating the obvious - but it's as valid today as it was then.

"I used to fly from Auckland to Christchurch to sit down with him for a day. I was incredibly grateful, I learnt a lot from him, he was a lovely man."

In 1990 he had a marriage break up after having four children and after marrying Heather, a South Islander, the pair took a trip to Christchurch in 1997 and felt it would be a good place to live.

"I liked the feeling of the place...[West Melton]...was a dot on the map about 20km from Christchurch with about 600 or so people.

"We and bought 20 acres...I'm am a wine nut, so we planted a vineyard...my son moved down from Auckland and we set up a business and planted 14 odd thousand vines and it became a large part of what we did.

"I'd go to Auckland and Wellington each month and sell wine, at one stage we had wine in seven of the top 10 restaurants in Auckland.

"But the GFC put paid to that - the Northern Hemisphere stopped buying New Zealand wines and the big wineries just dumped all their stock...for us as small winemakers we could not keep up."

So it was the insurance business that paid the bills and in 2015 he sold the property and moved to a new subdivision a few kilometres down the road that was built after the earthquakes.

"It's a lovely spot, everything's close by, we love it here."

While he's still in the process of handing over his book to a colleague Graeme says he'll still be working on his strategy, research and analysis system that he launched back in 1994.

He says it was not an easy decision to give up the business that's provided him with so many benefits over the years.

"Fundamentally, I loved meeting new people, talking about what we do, getting the information, fact-finding, doing my analysis and presenting my SLA in a logical, sensible fashion and putting it into place.

"What I'm not going to miss is the underwriting, getting stuff through to underwriters is an absolute nightmare these days, they have become so picky and venal, I'm not going to miss that part."

The one piece of advice he says he would give anyone new to the industry is "listen to your clients".

"But behind all of that you need a solid system, a process you can stick to that gets the job done logically, you can't do it by the seat of your pants."

Graeme says what he feels most proud about is "...meeting and exceeding peoples' expectations when the shit hits the fan".

"Knowing that the family that you worked for is financially secure and that the policy we sold them did what we intended it to do."

He's also proud of one of many career highlights when in 1998 he became the first Australasian member to be appointed to MDRT’s management council.

And, at 72-years-of-age, he says he's still got plenty in the tank and lots of interests to keep him occupied.

There's a couple of Porsches in the garage, a woodworking shed where he makes wooden toys for the grandchildren and a local charity, and a golf club where he wants to spend more time.

Tags: Life insurance retirement

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Comments from our readers

On 10 April 2021 at 4:52 pm dan g said:
Enjoy some good summers Graeme. Your insights on product certainly helped create ongoing product improvements and better customer outcomes. There may have been mixed views on your wine but without any doubt you have been a great insurance customer advocate.
On 12 April 2021 at 11:22 am Francine Kerr said:
Enjoy the new ventures and journeys. I used to like your forthright submissions to MBIE - always a great advocate for brokers. WRT the wine - at least you had a go even though it was not to everyone's taste.
On 13 April 2021 at 10:26 am A De Gregorio said:
Best wishes and thanks for your excellent contribution. Customers benefit from choice and quality. The product rating ecosystem was I understand initiated in NZ by Graeme. I never tried the wine.
On 15 April 2021 at 6:30 am Fabio S said:
Graeme made a difference with pioneering products comparisons back in the day. I assume Graeme misunderstands the meaning of the word venal to describe underwriters.
On 15 April 2021 at 2:48 pm m bolton said:
Agree with FS. The industry has a lot to thank Graeme for in helping start the early stages of product comparisons with the Strategy software over 20 years ago from memory. I trust the quote attributed to Graeme about underwriters must be a mix up. To describe a profession as venal is a strong statement but I suspect just a misunderstanding of the word's meaning.
Re the wine - it is a hard game and good on Graeme for at least having a go - hard to produce something that pleases NZers taste-buds
Best wishes
On 23 April 2021 at 12:42 pm j welsh said:
Sorry I missed this. An icon - top work with prices and comparisons. Not sure why there are some comments about the wine - had a go even though it did not succeed. Liked the newsletter jokes in the day although some were not PC by todays standards.
On 29 April 2021 at 4:02 pm k glynn said:
All the best - defo helped raise the quality of insurance products with ya ratings. It coulda been underwriters spreading a rumour that the wine was like Cold Duck - I liked it.
On 30 April 2021 at 10:03 am dan g said:
Hope Graeme continues to submit to the likes of MBIE giving both a customer and adviser perspective. The wine was not my taste but not Cold Duck either.
On 2 May 2021 at 11:52 am r murray said:
Salutes to Graeme an adviser who was not afraid to call things out - from claim declines in the newsletter to submissions to MBIE there was a desire to look after the customers and brokers.

I was given a bottle of the wine by a life company BDM back in the days when that was not frowned on. Although the wine was not great I am sure Graeme would have raised the standard over time if given the chance.

Best wishes and thanks for the contributions and laughter.
On 7 May 2021 at 12:38 pm wilf said:
Far too often there is hype about how much someone contributed. Not so with Mr Lindsay and big gun is an understatement as he was the pioneer of product and price comparisons.

If one checks out the reviews of the big bun's Tresillian Chardonnay 2012 on Michael Cooper's Guide it was rated 3 star out of 5. So mid ranked which although not stunning is better than most of us could achieve.
On 9 May 2021 at 12:23 pm jan mackie said:
Go well Graeme and thanks for the newsletters and research back in the day. Sorry to say I bought the wine and it was not to my taste - at least you gave that away and stayed working in the insurance industry.
On 11 May 2021 at 2:33 pm jeff m said:
Best wishes for the new stage of life.

Graeme kicked off the whole process of ratings.

Calling underwriters venal though as attributed t Graeme is a mistake.

Sorry if I am cynical but the Michael Cooper website rated Graeme's wine 2 or 3 stars out of 5. I wonder if Graeme would have sold a product similarly rated.
On 23 May 2021 at 2:10 pm d lythgoe said:
Best wishes Graeme.

Your product comparisons, newsletters and industry comments will be missed. The wine may have aged better than the initial challenging taste.
On 20 June 2021 at 2:15 pm kevin glynn said:
Thanks Graeme

Hope someone takes up the mantle of keeping an eye on the insurers in the way Graeme did.

I will have some North Canterbury in your honour - pity you were unable to do as well in the wine business as with insurance.

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