New Zealand Law Society - Insurance lawyer opens door to business-savvy poor

Insurance lawyer opens door to business-savvy poor

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By Jock Anderson

Andrew Peter (Andrew) Colgan
Entry to law
Graduated BCom (economics)/LLB and LLM (international trade law), Auckland University 2008. Admitted in 2009. 
Solicitor at McElroys, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Insurance law with particular emphasis on maritime claims.
Andrew Colgan
Andrew Colgan

Student backpacking in Myanmar with some mates inspired Andrew Colgan to establish a micro-finance project which has made 500 loans to poor entrepreneurs in one of the world’s most unbalanced economies.

Seized by a need to help business-savvy folk who were unable to start small business because they did not have enough earnings or assets to get conventional bank loans, Andrew and economist mate Geoff Cooper co-founded Aotearoa Development Cooperative (ADC) in 2007.

With a dozen mainly young-ish professionals on board, ADC is a New Zealand-based charitable organisation that offers funding and technical support to micro-finance institutions in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and more recently Malawi.

It is financed by fund-raising events but mainly by young professionals who typically give around $20 a fortnight.

It now turns over between $70,000 and $100,000 a year and has made about 500 loans totalling $250,000 in seven years.

“ADC works with partnerships owned in the local community whose main services are in savings and credit. The partnerships are separate entities and they get grants from ADC,” Andrew says.

“There is a poverty reduction focus, aimed at a low level and attractive to people operating on a very small scale and unable to access other finance.

“Our partner projects lend the equivalent of between $NZ100 and $NZ200 to people in poverty but who are financially literate and business-savvy.

“For example, $NZ100 buys a sewing machine and gets your tailoring business off the ground.

“ $NZ200 buys a rickshaw, when renting one will take two-thirds of every day’s takings.

“If a man can repay his rickshaw loan in one year he is debt free to make three times his income."

There is a good success rate on loan repayment, with 90% repayment being met.

Initially operating “below the radar” and regarded with some suspicion by Myanmar authorities, ADC now has recognition and support from the authorities.

Micro-finance law was introduced in 2011 and ADC’s partner project – which now has five years experience operating a small bank - is registered and reports to the government.

ADC’s Malawi partnership began in 2013 in association with an established savings project run out of a hospital in northern Malawi with about 2,000 clients.

“We are working with them to develop loan products and getting them up and running with software we developed to allow loan and savings products to be tracked.”

ADC has now grown to such an extent that an independent board is being established and consideration has to be given to employing staff in New Zealand.

Now approaching his fifth year with insurance law specialists McElroys, Andrew says the firm has been very good to him and its less hierarchical aspect has allowed him to establish his own files and do work not normally available to a junior solicitor in a bigger firm.

Acting for insurers means much of the legal work is in mediation, bringing about resolutions and settlements out of court.

Insurance and maritime law were “not childhood dreams of mine,” says Andrew, who did his Masters in international trade law – “which has a very peripheral connection with maritime law.”

Since joining McElroys, his work has included being involved in acting for the insurers of directors and officers of collapsed finance companies, insurers of cargo from the stricken ship Rena and the insurers of oil company Mobil in a cleanup dispute with Auckland council – one of the rare insurance cases which actually made it to court.

“Insurance law is something which thrives when things go wrong…”

The son of Chief Employment Court Judge Graeme Colgan, Andrew - a runner and social soccer player - is married to Sarah, an associate at Simpson Grierson until 2013, who is now studying for her Masters in health psychology at Auckland University.

And, yes – Sarah is a drummer in a rock n roll band, with a special interest in Brazilian samba beat. She is also chairman of ADC.

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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