Sheedy and former Essendon player and coach James Hird were “extraordinary”.
As an indication of the esteem in which the company’s fundraising efforts are held, Mr Hird attended despite suffering severe injuries in a cycling accident just days before.
“He rang me on the Sunday when the lunch was on the Wednesday and I thought he was going to say he’d have to pull out.
“But he rang to say he absolutely wanted to come, even though he had more than 20 fractures in his wrist and had basically busted his knee in half.
“He said he was still on morphine but if we could organise the transport to pick him up and help him to get in and out he would still love to do it.
“It was a pretty courageous performance to come and speak. His speech was the best we’ve had, and we’ve had some pretty great guests over the years.
“You could have heard a pin drop. It was incredible. It was nothing about the drugs scandal [that overtook the Essendon club when Mr Hird was its coach]. It was about him, his life, his children, overcoming adversity.
“It was a great link with Reach. It was about saying no matter what you have got to overcome, whatever adversity you face, there is support there, and for young people that is a great example of how to approach things.”
Mr McLardy and company co-founder Mike McShane are clear that there are very personal reasons for the company’s charitable focus.
“Mike and I have a total of seven kids, and we are happy and healthy,” Mr McLardy says.
“We’ve been in the insurance industry all our lives and we feel quite privileged. We feel like we should be giving something back because of how fortunate we’ve been.”
But it’s more than a personal crusade. The charitable endeavours have become a crucial part of the company’s identity. Mr McLardy believes the development of this culture lends trust and credibility to the McLardy McShane brand. It’s not tokenism, but a very deliberate part of what the company does.
“It is a very genuine cultural thing and it is our biggest asset, frankly.”
Mr McLardy believes clients’ resulting faith in the brand is opening up opportunities in other areas.
Aligned businesses include McLardy McShane Financial Services, mortgages and equipment finance, and premium funding operation Victory Funding.
“We are trying to build ancillary businesses to complement the businesses we have, to give us additional potential income streams from our client base,” Mr McLardy says. “We think that clients like dealing with us and our brand.
“Our culture and giving back to community is all very genuine, and our clients like that.
“So we think the trust that we are building in our brand means that we can look to these other income streams. People know we are a credible company with a credible offering.”
Mr McLardy sees a trend in SMEs looking for direct insurance offerings, and the company is aiming to tap into that.
However, he is clear that this needs to be approached with a degree of caution.
“We are exploring our online options but we are very conscious of getting that right. We have got to be careful not to cross over with our existing distribution channels. We don’t want to compete with ourselves.
“But as we know, a lot of that bottom end of the SME market is moving to online, and if we are not competitive and have an offering, then we are going to lose those clients. We are working on that.”
Mr McLardy believes that despite a shift to direct, people still like to know who they are dealing with.
“For smaller businesses like ours that is our biggest advantage. The customers know who they are dealing with and there is trust and credibility in that relationship.
“I think that is the most valuable thing. Even as technology advances, that will still be something that we can use to our advantage.
“But we are going to need to be good at online and communicating what our values and culture are.”
Following the Hayne royal commission’s final report, change may be coming for brokers and the way they are remunerated.
Mr McLardy is open to different ways of doing things, but warns against designing a system around a relatively small number of discrepancies.
“My big issue with a lot of the reporting around the royal commission is the sensationalist aspect of it.
“The fundamentals of our industry are that the vast majority of all transactions are handled with credibility and authenticity, giving good value to customer and supplier.
“And there is a lot of goodwill in our business. There’s a lot of claims that insurers pay that technically they don’t need to pay but they do for the goodwill of long-term clients. These things don’t get reported.
“For every poor instance that gets reported, there are probably 100 instances where insurance companies or brokers have gone out of their way to support a client.
“We have got to be careful not to build a system to eliminate what is a minor part of the business. That is not underplaying how important it is that we actually eliminate all those [problematic] transactions, but we can’t build a whole system to that because it will undermine all the other great things that are being done.”
If changes are made to broker commissions, then it must be done over a reasonable period of time, he says.
“Businesses need to be given time to adjust their systems. To come in with a sledgehammer to kill an ant is the wrong way to approach it. But we all understand there are issues that need to be dealt with.”
Mr McLardy sees the market hardening at present, but says it is only the extremes that cause issues.
It is in those cases that broker expertise and relationships really come to the fore, he says.
“It is very difficult to explain to a client why his premium one year is $20,000 and the next year it is $80,000, and they haven’t changed their business at all.
“Clients can get very suspicious, and if I was in their shoes I would be as well. We have to try and explain market forces to them, and it is a real test of a broker’s ability.”
Mr McLardy says talking to the client early is vital. “A lot of the skill in broking is to forewarn your client. Don’t arrive on renewal date saying look it’s up 150% – part of the art of broking is to educate your client along the way to that so when that time arrives it’s not a surprise.
“It is about managing the client’s expectations on the way through those markets.
“In certain areas there are some pretty extreme cases coming out and things are getting worse. “We have had a couple of clients we’ve had some difficulty even placing in the market.”
Even in these changing times, Mr McLardy tries not to look too far ahead for his business. While the growth, and the focus on “good people”, continues, he’s happy.
“We are not too futuristic. We are adding new things and we are growing strongly still,” he says. “At the moment we are comfortable we are gathering good people, under a good brand, with a good culture. For the next couple of years it will be more of the same.”