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Simon Crone on engineering a solution after Help to Buy

Many people have fallen into a financial services career but few directly link this to their engineering background. But this is exactly what happened to Genworth Europe vice-president, commercial, Simon Crone. “And now I do absolutely nothing to do with engineering,” he says.

Crone is now part of a business that insures mortgage lenders against the
risk of losing money if borrowers do not pay up. 

He started working for the financial services division of General Electric in 2000, armed with an engineering degree from the University of Cape Town.

The link between finance and engineering makes sense in the context of General Electric’s use of the Six Sigma philosophy in its business strategy. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in 1986 as a way of improving its manufacturing process by removing the causes of defects and reducing variability in that process. It was later adapted for other industries and taken up by General Electric in 1995.

The career path for Six Sigma professionals is expressed through martial arts-influenced terminology.

“I was a Six Sigma black belt and a Six Sigma master black belt,” says Crone. “Then I moved on to the business side, with opportunities to work for different businesses within the group and in other countries.”

Crone relished the chance to travel with work and relocated from the UK to Australia in 2003 as part of General Electric. Genworth Financial was formed through a flotation of several parts of General Electric’s insurance business and when Crone moved back in 2008 he joined the new company, which covered much of Europe. “One of the highlights for me is being able to travel and work in different countries. It’s given me a new perspective. Working with different cultures and people so you have to adapt the ways you work to fit in with them makes you open your mind,” he says. “You also learn best practice ideas from other countries.”

As a child, Crone’s ambition was to fly fighter aeroplanes for a living.

“I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen. Then I decided that because I was an outdoors type of person, I wanted to work outdoors, then I got into engineering,” he says.

The biggest challenge for Crone so far in his career has been the global financial crisis. He admits to being personally moved by some of the sad stories that lie behind mortgage lenders’ claims.

“It has been very tough for people but we work with banks and borrowers to do everything we can to keep people in their homes,” he says.

”We need to dispel the myth that Help to Buy is driving up house prices”

Crone says the lack of high LTV mortgages that resulted from lenders becoming more cautious after the financial crisis has made the ability to buy a house a structural issue, with younger generations effectively locked out of the housing market.

So has the Government’s Help-to-Buy scheme succeeded in addressing the problem?

“Help to Buy has helped with the availability of high LTV mortgages and has removed the stigma of high loan to valuation as a type of mortgage,” he says.

Since the launch of Help to Buy, there has been a sharp increase in the number of mortgages available to borrowers with a 5 per cent deposit but Crone says he is concerned about what happens when Government support is withdrawn.

“Things are significantly better for first-time buyers but we have got to make sure that continues for those who pass stringent affordability checks.

Crone dismisses the argument Help to Buy is driving up house prices. Instead he says the problem is due to lack of supply of new homes and he says more needs to be done to provide incentives for builders.

“We need to dispel the myth that Help to Buy is driving up house prices. What is pushing up prices is supply and demand. More can be done on the supply side.”

All Genworth’s existing clients decided to stay with the firm rather than opt for the Government’s guarantee through Help to Buy.

“We offer bespoke cover to fit the needs of mortgage lenders and we can provide competitive pricing,” says Crone, by way of an explanation. “Bath Building Society is one of the new ones we have signed as a partner and gone public with. 

“We also have a few others such as the Hanley Economic Building Society which tops the best buy tables with its 1.49 per cent discounted variable rate. This demonstrates some of the best rates are achievable through the private sector rather than Help to Buy,” says Crone.

So what can Crone reveal about Genworth’s plans for the future? In keeping with his own global view, the world – or at least Europe – is its oyster. 

“We currently work in four countries in Europe – historically we worked with up to eight,” says Crone. 

“We believe in Europe and will be looking to expand to other European countries in the future.”

Simon Crone

Simon-Crone-700.jpg

Born: Cape Town, South Africa

Lives: Guildford, Surrey

Born: Cape Town, South Africa

Lives: Guildford, Surrey

Education: Masters in Engineering, University of Cape Town

Career: 2013-present: vice president, commercial, Genworth Financial Europe; 2010-2012: vice president, client relations and loss mitigation, Genworth Financial Europe; 2009-2010: vice president, loss mitigation, Genworth Financial Europe; 2008-2009: quality leader, Genworth Financial Europe; 2003-2007: General Electric, Australia; 2001-2003: General Electric, UK

Likes: The great outdoors (running, mountain biking, skiing, golf etc…)

Dislikes: I can’t do attitudes

Drives: Land Rover

Book: Born to Win by John Bertrand (America’s Cup sailing)

Film: I have young children therefore little time for films at the moment.

Album: Anything by The Killers

Career ambition: To see private mortgage insurance play a key role in helping first time buyers in the UK, like it does in Australia, Canada & the US.

Life ambition: A happy, healthy family.

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…an engineer, certainly messing about with technology.

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