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Graeme Lindsay: death of a life industry stalwart

Graeme Lindsay's professional life in the insurance industry was bookended by brushes with cancer.

Thursday, July 4th 2024, 11:53AM 5 Comments

by Jenny Ruth

As a teenager, Lindsay had joined the army as a cadet in 1965 but was then diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, which he managed to beat with radiotherapy.

But the army medically discharged him and, after an attempt to study at university was disrupted by his ongoing hospital treatment, he applied for and got a job with the MLC Insurance company in Auckland.

Clearly, he'd landed in his element: in 1975, he earned the highest aggregate marks for the NZ Diploma of Life Insurance and the Al Pitts Award and by 1977 had become involved in his industry association (now incorporated into Financial Advice New Zealand).

He became the association's youngest junior vice-president at age 29 in 1978 and served as national president between 1981 and 1983.

But late last year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While chemotherapy staved off the end for six months, Lindsay finally succumbed to the disease last weeked, aged 75.

In December last year, after Lindsay had posted on LinkedIn explaining his own situation and urging everyone to review their insurance cover to ensure they had the right policies in place, I happened to catch up with him when he about to start his first lot of chemotherapy.

I hadn't known him long – he had contacted me in late August to let GoodReturns know that Southern Cross quietly dropped a $60,000 a year benefit for non-surgical hospitalisation without telling either agents or Southern Cross policyholders.

Insurance industry stalwart Brian Klee says “advisers across the country regard him as the guru of product knowlege” and Lindsay was still trying to help people by giving them the benefit of his own experience, even while ill himself.

It seems that optimism was also characteristic of him because he told me he had been given just two months to live but had chosen the most aggressive treatment option in the hope he could extend his final days.

“It has the potential to extend my life for months, possibly even years,” Lindsay told me then.

Talking about his “wonderful” wife, Heather, and his four children and nine grandchildren, he said: “I want to stay alive as long as possible for them,” adding that the family had a reunion planned for the festive season.

“We're going to give it both barels and stay positive. That's the plan.” His determination did win him some extra months, but after shrinking his tumours, the cancer returned with a vengeance and he went downhill fast in his last few weeks.

He had retired as an adviser in 2021 but had continued to operate the Strategy Financial Services, a business he founded in 1994 that provides provides analysis to life and health insurance agents, until finally selling it in March to Chuck Slogrove and the team at Trail Ltd with Davies Financial and Acturial engaged to do what Lindsay called “the complex technical stuff.”

Lindsay was still optimistic even then, saying that he had responded well to treatment.

“Nevertheless, the cold hard reality is that I can't guarantee to be here to continue to provide the Strategy tool in future, forcing the conclusion that it is time to pass Strategy on.”

The beginnings of Strategy grew out of a chance meeting with Canadian advisor Wayne Cotton at a conference in Canada that Lindsay had been asked to speak at.

Cotton was in the process of developing the Cotton Client Acquisition System and the Pathway to Freedom programme and, after sitting at the same table at the conference, Cotton invited Lindsay to visit his office so he could show him his plans.

The pair became firm friends both personally and professionally – they and their wives spent a memorable canal boat trip together in England together.

In a video interview with Lindsay on another trip to Canada in 2017, Cotton remembered Lindsay had “a pocketful of opals” to finance the 1978 trip.

Lindsay explained that it had been difficult to get money out of NZ in those days.

Both men had been involved in the US-based Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), with Lindsay a member for 34 years, and reminisced together about its value.

Lindsay said the most value to him was learning that it was OK to hug people, something not common in the rather buttoned-up NZ he grew up in.

“There's nothing bad about telling your kids you love them,” Lindsay said, adding that “I learnt from a lot of people who gave a lot” and that he had continued going to MDRT meetings because of the people he met.

“A fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others,” he told Cotton.

Being a wine buff, Lindsay had bought land at West Melton in Canterbury in the 1990s and planted a vineyard with the help of his son, Robert, and named the business Tressilian Wines, so he still had plenty ot occupy himself with even in semi-retirement.

Cuisine magazine described the West Melton vineyard as “lifestyle-block heaven” and advised visitors driving up the tree-lined driveway towards the “majestic cellar door” that they shouldn't “be surprised if Grouse the German-terrier-fox terrier cross or Gris the cat attempt to adopt you.”

Lindsay, whose funeral is scheduled to be held on Monday, will be missed by many in the industry.

“He was an amazing guy and a wonderful friend,” Cotton told GoodReturns, saying that he and his wife, Brenda, “will miss him dearly.”

Klee said that NZ advisers have greatly benefited from Lindsay's research and have relied on information provided by Strategy, but that he had also benefited insurance product providers.

“It all started out because he wanted to do the best for his clients … a number of insurers contacted him before they did any product upgrades,” Klee said. “Second-best wasn't good enough for him and look out if you disagreed with him. I guess it's one of the reasons why he had such a great relationship with his clients. They trusted him and he spoke his mind – in an appropriate manner, I should add.”

David Whyte, chair of the Kiwi Advisor Network, says he first met Lindsay when he was an independent adviser and Whyte was Sovereign's business development manager.

Whyte remembers visiting Lindsay's office in Remuera, “up some rickety stairs” in 1989. “There was a man very willing to listen, with some scepticism, I have to say, but he came around.”

Whyte last spoke to him a few weeks before Lindsay died and says “he was really philosophical. He was at stage four and there's no stage five. But he still sounded really chipper.”

Another industry stalwart, Warren Duff, is to give the eulogy at Lindsay's funeral.

“There will be thousands of people here in NZ that have welcomed Graeme's calling on them, for he represents many millions of dollars that have been credited to their families to keep them financially secure forever through the benefit of life insurance,” Duff said in an early draft.

Tags: insurance

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Comments from our readers

On 4 July 2024 at 5:43 pm Barry Read said:
Very sad news. My condolences to the family.
I first met Graeme in the mid 90s in my first BDM job at Norwich.

He was willing to help and over the years I learnt a lot from him. I can still remember him debating LOE verses Agreed Value IP at an IFA meeting in the early 2000s with Cecilia.

I also remember at one conference him giving every adviser at the conference, after his presentation on Sole-Trader shareholder protection, a disk with every template for the processes.

I asked him why he gave away his IP. He said 'Because Barry, I know less than 5% of them will actually use it.'

His contribution to the industry was inspiring.
On 4 July 2024 at 8:33 pm david@ownboss.co.nz said:
A giant of our industry has fallen. Graeme was an example for all of us. Sincere Condolences to Graeme's family.
On 5 July 2024 at 9:36 am Tony Vidler said:
A genuine loss to the industry and the wider community. Graeme was an outstanding thinker and contributor and pioneer in so many respects, and one willing to give his time and expertise to others.

A bloody good bloke.

My condolences to the entire Lindsay family and to his many many friends.
Vale G!
On 5 July 2024 at 11:17 am Jeff Tobin said:
A top man and friend to many who will be missed. I remember us going back to National Mutual days. I found Graeme to be an enthusiastic and well read conversationalist on a wide range of topics.

He would always listen to your point of view even if it was different to his and he would always share his view point.
Strategy is a great tool for risk advisers, still use it.

Sincere condolences to Graeme's family and friends.
On 6 July 2024 at 7:41 am Marty Peters said:
A fellow member of the Million Dollar Round Table Graeme and the group met annually for over 30 years to serve the membership at our annual meetings. I and my Various roommates; Roget Herrmann Keith Eck, Larry Kolasa, Alan Skogebo, were the Same Time Next Year Group.
We laughed and shared our Family experiences and also our Practice experiences. All of these experiences made us better Fathers and Husbands. We will always Hug our loved ones because it is our way of showing Compassion! Thanks Graeme from all your friends in MDRT.
Real Happiness is Helping Others! Marty Peters Solana Beach California

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