APAC co-head quits Omni Bridgeway for Sydney disputes boutique

Oliver Gayner departs as Omni’s CEO prepares to step down in October

Omni Bridgeway’s Asia-Pacific co-managing director, Oliver Gayner, has left the litigation funder to join a disputes boutique in Sydney.

Gayner will be a partner at William Roberts Lawyers specialising in class actions and commercial litigation, returning to practice for the first time in a decade after a series of senior litigation funder roles.

His departure from ASX-listed Omni comes as it prepares for a wider leadership shake up, with long-term CEO and managing director Andrew Saker due to stand down in October, when he will transition to a one-year non-executive role. 

Gayner said his departure from Omni was amicable and reflected a desire to extend an existing relationship with William Roberts’ co-founders, Bill Petrovski and Robert Ishak, with whom he had worked closely as a funder.

“I know first-hand the quality of the team they have built, and it’s a very exciting time to be joining the firm and adding my experience to the class actions and commercial litigation practices,” he said in a LinkedIn post.

Gayner, who is a member of Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (ACICA)’s Users Council, is expected to qualify in New South Wales alongside his existing status as a registered foreign lawyer.

At the outset of his legal career, he worked as a solicitor advocate in the UK, with higher court rights of audience, at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and then legacy Olswang – now CMS – before joining Burford Capital as a litigation funding manager in 2013.

He relocated to Australia in 2015 with IMF Bentham and set up its Singapore office in 2017 before returning to London in 2018 to launch its EMEA office. A year later, he integrated that office into Omni Bridgeway’s operations following the merger of both funders in 2019.

He took up the co-managing director role in July 2022, alongside Tom Glasgow, who continues as sole APAC managing director.

Gayner’s return to private practice comes at a challenging time for class actions and litigation funding in Australia. A briefing by class actions specialists Maurice Blackburn found that total class action filings in 2022 were at their lowest level on record since 2018 for both funded and unfunded claims.

Previous regulatory changes and court rulings hindered the market for Australian litigation funding at the start of the decade, although a 2022 ruling exempted funders from federal requirements classifying them as managed investment schemes.

However, Gayner noted a recent ruling under the Victorian class actions regime on group costs orders and said changes to legislation at both federal and state level were expected to allow contingency billing to become more widely available in New South Wales and Victoria.

William Roberts, meanwhile, said Gayner’s arrival would significantly bolster its class actions and commercial litigation offering. It has also appointed Fred van Reede as the new head of the firm’s Brisbane office. 

Van Reede, who is dual-qualified in both South Africa and Australia, has joined from Ligeti Partners, where he was head of its Brisbane office.

Ishak said: “In its 18th year, William Roberts continues to innovate and grow through its investment in its people” in welcoming both principals to the leadership team.

According to the Financial Times, Omni saw net income fall 79.34% from a loss of A$25.45m to a larger loss of A$45.65m for its fiscal year ending June 2022, despite an 89.70% increase in revenues from A$15.94m to A$30.24m.

In July, Saker reported a strong end to the latest financial year in Omni's Q4 investment report. “We achieved our FY23 commitment target and improved the diversification and resilience of our portfolio,” he said. “Annual commitments grew 17% to a record high of A$544m and estimated portfolio value (after completions) increased 12% to A$30.5bn.”

Saker’s successor at Omni, Raymond Van Hulst, executive director, managing director and co-chief investment officer EMEA, will take over at its AGM.

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