Chris O'Brien

Partner Kaiurungi

Chris is an established banking and financial services expert with significant public law experience. He advises banks, major corporates, trustee companies, and Crown departments/entities on corporate finance transactions, regulatory and governance issues, and financing and restructuring matters.

Recognised in leading legal directories for his banking and finance expertise, Chris specialises in financing transactions, including syndicated, project finance, acquisition and working capital facilities, and retail debt offers. He advises and assists major corporates with the introduction of new corporate lenders and has acted on the establishment of, and transactional matters for, a number of funds.

Chris has advised on a number of securitisation structures, including for banks, non-deposit taking lenders, impact investors, and trustees. He has also advised on numerous lease and concession transactions involving a wide range of asset classes and infrastructure projects, including cross-border leveraged leases and Public Private Partnerships and involving central and local government entities as the counterparty.

Adept at working on large scale, multi-disciplinary projects, Chris regularly leads teams on significant banking transactions. In recent years, he has been the lead adviser to the New Zealand Government on several complex and high-profile transactions including the restructure and liquidation of Solid Energy and matters arising from the New Zealand Government’s commitment to rebuilding Christchurch’s three waters infrastructure and building the civic Anchor Projects.

Chris has developed a deep understanding of what matters to organisations that exist solely for the benefit of their customers. He appreciates the public sector regulatory context and the Government perspectives relevant to the governance and management of Crown entities and state-owned enterprises. He has a proven ability to assist his clients to identify the key issues and develop alternatives that consider the key drivers for counterparties. Known for his commercial focus and responsiveness to clients’ commercial imperatives, Chris offers creative solutions to complex problems and works with the client team as a true team player.

Career highlights

Acting for The Co-operative Bank on its warehouse securitisation and internal residential mortgage-backed securities programmes, and for a range of originators and investors in the establishment of, and/or investments into, securitisation structures.

Assisting New Zealand Green Investment Finance Limited (NZGIF), the green investment bank established by the Government to accelerate investment to enable New Zealand’s low carbon future, with its debt and equity investment transactions. This included a combined debt and equity investment in low emissions vehicle advisory and financing business, Carbn Group, and facilities provided to ‘solar-as-a-service’ provider solarZero for its residential, commercial, and public sector initiatives.

Acting for the lead arranger banks on the syndicated financing of the acquisition of Vodafone New Zealand by a consortium comprising Infratil Limited and Brookfield Asset Management Limited.

Acting for The Treasury on a full range of its economic support initiatives as a consequence of COVID-19, including the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme and the Economically Significant Business Scheme. Providing advice on support options, including advising on a large number of tools that were available to the Crown such as debt, equity and quasi equity structures, as well as holding structures and governance.

Primary legal advisor regarding the design and structure of our client's progressive home ownership scheme, as well as its funding arrangements with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This has involved developing template documentation (including a shared ownership agreement that can be used as the industry standard amongst progressive home ownership providers) and negotiating and consulting with key stakeholders.

Lead adviser to the New Zealand Government on the restructuring and liquidation of state-owned enterprise Solid Energy, including the risk sharing and treatment of long-term environmental liabilities and the acquisition by the New Zealand Government of the Pike River mine.

Lead adviser to The Treasury on the disestablishment of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the establishment of Ōtākaro and Regenerate Christchurch, and the transfer of key Anchor Project assets to Ōtākaro, including working closely on the development and drafting of the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act.

Acting as key legal adviser to The Treasury on this high profile and highly sensitive matter relating to the Tiwai smelter, a significant regional employer with material impacts on New Zealand’s electricity infrastructure. We provided advice on options for structuring any potential deals, the commercial terms of potential deals, negotiating with the owners, and Government’s rights regarding environmental remediation.

Achievements and recognition
  • Recognised, Banking and Finance, Chambers Asia-Pacific
  • Band 1 team, Public Law, Chambers Asia-Pacific
  • Leading Individual, Banking and Finance, The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific
  • Tier 1 team, Banking and Finance, The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific
  • Highly Regarded, Banking and Finance, IFLR1000
  • Recognised, Banking and Finance Law, Best Lawyers
  • Recognised, Project Finance and Development Practice, Best Lawyers
  • Recognised, Structured Finance Law, Best Lawyers
  • Winner, New Zealand Deal of the Year - Solid Energy financial restructuring, New Zealand Law Awards, 2014 and 2016