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The MM Profile: Simon Conn

Simon Conn is fast making a name for himself as the guru on overseas mortgages. Conn, who has been involved in financial services since 1980, set up Conti Financial Services in 1994 when the company consisted of himself and a small office in Hove.

The firm now employs 22 staff, with as managing director. Expansion plans are afoot and the firm has taken over the entire original premises.

He says: “I enjoy it but I get frustrated because there is a feeding frenzy with people wanting to buy abroad but some brokers want the money without listening to the client. There are some very bad agents out there who want to make money and get out of the industry. Sometimes it is no good being morally minded and it makes me really upset that here is so much under- the-table business.

“Some advisers are saying you can lend in 45 different countries which we know is impossible. They are then saying to the client if you can’t lend in one country then they will remortage their UK property but not give any help on buying abroad, even though there are so many pitfalls and so much that needs advising on because laws and practices can be so different.”

Conn adds that consumers are vulnerable when buying abroad as they are often so excited by being able to realise their dream and do not always go into a decision with a clear head. He claims a solution to some of the problems being experienced is to have a mandatory 14-day cooling off period so people can asses whether they have taken the correct decision.

“Some people don’t realise all the implications of buying abroad,” he argues. “This is one person’s chance to get their dream. If people only have one lot of money it is so important that they don’t lose their property. Yet some advisers forget there is some type of moral responsibility and they should be aiming to keep clients for the long term.

“If people were given a 14-day cooling-off period then the problems would not happen but many people in Spain, for example, who cause problems for people come from ex-timeshare problems.”

Conn accepts that regulating a worldwide mortgage market is virtually impossible even though the European Mortgage Federation has done its best to help matters.

He says the market has changed dramatically since Conti was formed. Conn reveals that people used to laugh at his stands at various conferences and trade shows when they were first launched. But the last laugh is on the doubters with the overseas mortgage market having grown dramatically over recent years, with the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries having recently stated that more and more of its members are getting involved.

He says: “When I started the maximum loan to value was 50 per cent and maximum term was 10 years. Now it is 80 per cent LTV and 40 years, and interest rates can be a little as 0.75 per cent above base but before it was 5.5 per cent. There is a different type of buyer now compared to the 1980s. It used to be the more wealthy but the scope is a lot wider now.”

Conn got into the market after a two-year spell as an IFA, after leaving Legal & General’s direct sales force in 1992. He says he was “fed-up” with the lack of support at an unnamed IFA that later went bankrupt, so went on to establish Conti.

He says: “I wanted to get involved with high net worth clients, and with overseas mortgages, you can get involved on the pensions and IHT planning side as even if people don’t go ahead with the mortgage you know there is a large sum of money they have that you can help them with.”

Conn has big plans for Conti. When it started, the firm only sold mortgages in a handful of countries but now it trades in over 30. Conn wants to add another 30-40 staff to his ranks in the next five years and wants sales managers in each country Conti offers home loans in. “We are trying to lead the market and take on area representatives on the ground,” he says.

His next major set of work is determining which new countries Conti should be selling mortgages in. That is not an easy task given the various rules and regulations governing the sale of property to foreigners in particular locations. For example, Conn has previously bemoaned the fact the Dubai authorities have yet to ratify a law to allow foreigners to own the freehold of a property in the whole country.

He says: “When we break into any new country we take 6-9 months out to make sure the client can legally do it. We are still working on Turkey as only since the end of last year could a non-resident buy a property in Turkey.”

Conn adds: “We are more cautious than other brokers in the market and we double check everything. We have to make sure we have a good service and that the underwriting is right. There is so much training to do. For example, we have had to train people in Athens about a UK mortgage as they don’t know what a P60 is and they don’t understand what the UK paperwork is. We do a lot of work on translations. I had a client who was sent a contract in Arabic the other day and they could not understand it. That is why you need proper advice.”

Lives: In Hove, married with two daughters, aged 21 and 18.

Career history: 1972-1980, Trainee manager at Tesco, worked on a kibbutz, had own furniture business; 1980-92, Legal and General; 1992-93, IFA; 1993-94, IFA; 1994-present, Conti Financial Services

Education: Lewes, OND in business

Likes: Astronomy, meteorology, Brighton and Hove Albion

Dislikes: People who come out with a negative comment but without a positive solution

Drives: Toyota RAV 4

Favourite author: Michael Crichton

Favourite film: Paint Your Wagon

Favourite album: Breakfast in America by Supertramp

Life ambition: To be happy and have a good family life

What would you be doing if you were not doing this job?Running a kennel

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