5 firms score as CommBank offloads life insurance units in Australia and New Zealand

Top law firms act as a pan-Asian life insurance giant becomes the largest life insurer in Australia and New Zealand

5 firms score as CommBank offloads life insurance units in Australia and New Zealand
A group of top firms are acting in a deal that changes the life insurance landscape in Australia and New Zealand.

AIA Group and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) announced that AIA is acquiring CBA’s CommInsure Life and Sovereign businesses in Australia and New Zealand, respectively, for $3.8bn. The deal will make AIA, already the largest independent publicly-listed life insurance group in Asia, the life insurance market leader in both countries.

Five firms have confirmed their roles to Australasian Lawyer.

New York-headquartered Debevoise & Plimpton is acting as the lead legal counsel for AIA, with a team from its Hong Kong office. Ashurst is AIA’s Australian legal adviser, while Bell Gully is advising the acquirer in New Zealand.

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is advising CBA on the sale. Russell McVeagh is CBA’s New Zealand legal adviser.

The acquisition, which includes an exclusive 20-year bancassurance deal between AIA and CBA in both jurisdictions, is subject to regulatory approvals in Australia, New Zealand, and China. It is expected to close in 2018.

The team from Debevoise, which has acted for AIA on all its recent major deals, is being led by Hong Kong partner Edwin Northover. It also includes associates Allison A. Lee and Wen-Wei Lai.

The Ashurst team, which is focused on the CommInsure Life acquisition, is being led by corporate partner Con Tzerefos. It also includes partners Natsuko Ogawa and Lisa Simmons, counsel Arabella Dove, and senior associates Chris Harris and Jared Lynch (corporate); partner Rehana Box and senior associate Philip Hopley (insurance); partner Jamie Ng and counsel Joseph Chow (global markets); partner Andrew Harpur and senior associate Tim West (disputes); partner Kellech Smith and senior associate Stuart D'Aloisio (intellectual property); partner Amanda Ludlow and counsels Clare Doneley and Emma Butler (technology, media, and telecoms); partner Jane Harvey with senior associates Liz Grey and Emilie Maddox (employment); partners Ross Zaurrini and Bill Reid, counsel Justin Jones, and senior associate Angie Ng (competition); and partner Jason Cornwall-Jones and senior associate Gaby Stach (property).

Bell Gully’s team, which is handling the acquisition of Sovereign for AIA, is being led by partners Chris Goddard and Glenn Joblin. It also includes special counsel Sarah McQueen and senior associate Jenny Hills.
HSF said that it is fielding specialists from a range of its practice areas for the team being led by partner Tony Damian. The team also includes special counsel Claire Machin, senior associate Li-Lian Yeo, and solicitors Amelia Morgan and Tim Coorey.

The HSF team is working closely with CBA’s legal team, which includes group general counsel Anna Lenahan, head of advisory and M&A legal Mark Alexander. The CBA group advisory and M&A legal team also includes Henrietta Rowe, Kirsty Cox, and Genovieve Lajeunesse.

Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood is leading the firm’s team, which is advising CBA on New Zealand matters. Russell McVeagh said it is working with Alexander and Cox on the deal.

J.P. Morgan and FNZC are acting as financial advisers on the deal.

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