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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Coinciding with this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program released its fourth annual ‘State of the Industry Report on Mobile Financial Services.’ I talked with Jennifer Frydrych, Insights Coordinator for the MMU program and one of the authors on the report, about the project’s findings. The conversation touched on new markets, shifts in the mobile payments mix, successes with products beyond payments, the main hurdles facing mobile money ecosystems, and more.

1. The mobile money industry has grown rapidly in recent years. Can you bring us up to date with some of the growth figures and dynamics?

In the past five years, mobile money services have spread across much of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. At the end of 2014, there were 255 live mobile money services across 89 markets, 36 more than in 2013. Mobile money is now available in 61 percent of developing markets globally. In terms of adoption and usage growth, 75 million additional mobile money accounts were opened globally in 2014, bringing the total number of registered accounts to 299 million. Importantly, account activity increased faster than account registration in 2014, and the total number of active mobile money accounts is now 103 million (up from 73 million in 2013). An increasing number of services are reaching scale: 21 services now have more than one million active accounts.

2. As of the last State of the Industry report, half of all live mobile money deployments were in sub-Saharan Africa. How has this distribution changed? What were some new or emerging markets of the past year?

There were 22 new services launches in 2014, of which half occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. The mobile money industry in sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow, and the region still accounts for just over half of all live services globally, and 60 percent of all active accounts. Much of this success can be attributed to East Africa; however we are now seeing exciting growth in mobile money uptake and active usage in West Africa.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Marisol is a 69-year-old woman in Aguablanca, a mid-sized community near the coast in Colombia. She hasn’t saved much for her older years. She receives a small social pension—about a dollar per day—from the public pension program, Colombia Mayor. While it provides an income floor for her, Marisol would like to be working as an entrepreneur. She even has a plan: “If I had a little capital, I could buy chicken legs, beef, and bananas here at a cheap price and then sell them in the Pacific towns at three or four times the price. And then I could bring back fish from the coast to sell here at the fairs.” But she cannot get a loan because of the age caps on credit at the financial institutions that operate in her area.

Marisol explains that it is not her lack of zeal or a declining health that is keeping her from increasing her income through this business dream of hers. “Strength and desire do not fail me,” she says. “It’s the money that I lack.”

Marisol was one of the people that we interviewed as part of the creation of an issue paper on Aging and Financial Inclusion, a project conducted by the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign and in collaboration with HelpAge International. Her story is not unique—many older people report being denied access to credit and insurance in their later years. Most older people who had low or informal income when they were younger have not saved for their older years.

The new paper examines the unmet financing needs of older adults, a population segment growing rapidly in developing countries. With a focus on Latin America, the paper discusses the barriers to and market opportunities in expanding financial access to aging populations.

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

The following post was originally published on the Microfinance CEO Working Group blog.

The American Economic Journal has published an issue dedicated to six new studies measuring the impact of microcredit. Through a series of randomized control trials (RCTs), researchers have identified some of the effects of expanded access to microcredit on borrowers and communities in Bosnia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Mongolia, and Morocco.

The researchers reported evidence of positive impacts of microcredit on occupational choice, business scale, consumption choice, female decision power, and improved risk management, but did not report clear evidence of reduction in poverty or substantial improvements in living standards. “These results,” conclude the authors, “suggest that although microcredit may not be transformative in the sense of lifting people or communities out of poverty, it does afford people more freedom in their choices… and the possibility of being self-reliant.”

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> Posted by Karin Malmberg, PIIF Manager, PRI

How do institutional investors in inclusive finance ensure that their investee institutions manage their social as well as financial performance? How do these investors contribute to the sustainable growth of the industry? And, perhaps most importantly how do they ensure that end clients are fairly treated and adequately protected?

The Report on Progress in Inclusive Finance 2014 by the Principles for Investors in Inclusive Finance (PIIF) Initiative addresses these questions, analyzing data submitted by inclusive finance investors on their responsible investment practices.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced substantial increases throughout the country’s microfinance market: growth in the volume of loans dispersed to microentrepreneurs, in the number of microcredit institutions offering savings services, and in the return on equity of rural banks with microfinance operations. Concerning regulation and institutional support, the recently released 2014 Global Microscope found that the Philippines has the best environment in Asia for financial inclusion.

In 2014, loans extended to microentrepreneurs in the Philippines totaled P9.3 billion (US$209 million) as of June, according to figures reported by BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. at the recent Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards in Manila – a roughly 7 percent increase over last year’s figure. On savings, in early 2012 only 22 banks in the country offered micro-deposit accounts. Now, 69 of the Philippines’ 183 banks with microcredit operations take deposits, with a total of 1.7 million micro-deposit accounts. Beyond credit and savings, 86 of the country’s institutions offering microcredit also provide microinsurance and 26 provide electronic banking services.

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> Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

What are the sources of income for the poor surviving on two dollars a day? While every financial inclusion advocate wants to recommend savings, credit, and insurance products to the poor, offered by the formal financial institutions, there is a loud silence on the earning component of financial capability.

Could the silence be judged as complacent satisfaction that the earnings currently available are good enough? Suffice it to say that even though the current financial products do not produce income for the users, if they are well designed, they should facilitate the earning of income and certainly the use of income in money management. However, we do realize that if we want to talk of increasing income, we are onto a whole different development agenda: livelihood.

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> Posted by Somen Saha, Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar, with inputs from Marcia Metcalfe, Freedom from Hunger and Sabina Rogers, Microcredit Summit Campaign

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) and self-help groups (SHGs) in India are increasingly recognizing the potential of offering both health and financial services. In a query of 25 MFIs across the country providing integrated services, the number of borrowers totaled nearly 18 million. A new report, Integrated Health and Microfinance in India, Volume II: The Way Forward, highlights best practices in integrating health and microfinance programs, particularly in light of India’s aim for universal health care, showcases potential interventions that can be adopted by microfinance institutions and NGOs that serve SHGs, and outlines the role of India’s existing livelihood promotion SHG initiatives in addressing access barriers to health services.

For the 1.3 billion people around the world who live on less than $1.25 a day, poverty means vulnerability. The poor face a disproportionate risk of disease and a heightened financial burden that includes both the direct costs of medical care and the indirect costs of work time lost. This financial impact also limits the ability of the poor to fully participate in financial services, as poor health is one of the most frequently cited reasons for loan default and drop-out. Because the poor are one illness away from losing everything, there is an increasing realization that countries need a pro-poor pathway towards universal healthcare.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Since launching microfinance activities in 1974, BRAC has grown to become one of the world’s largest financial services providers to the poor. BRAC’s microfinance operations, which include loans and savings, serve more than 5 million clients in eight countries. In 2012, BRAC started a financial education and client protection project that aims to help clients adopt financial behaviors that facilitate their well-being. Shameran Abed, Director of the BRAC Microfinance program, recently spoke with me to discuss BRAC’s work. Prior to joining BRAC, Abed served as an editorial writer at one of Bangladesh’s main English-language daily newspapers where he wrote primarily on politics. He also serves on the Board of Directors of bKash, a mobile financial services platform in Bangladesh.   

Eric: Can you talk about BRAC’s client protection work and what you learned from your project pilots in 2012 and 2013?

Shameran: We wanted to make sure that any clients coming into the BRAC microfinance program could be very well catered to. They should understand what our products are, what our terms are, what our rates are, and they should make an educated decision on whether they want to take our products. And if they do become our members then they should be treated well, treated with respect, and have access to information. I’m not saying that BRAC didn’t have all these things before two or three years ago, but we really wanted to double-down our efforts on these fronts. So that’s why we decided to do more work around client protection, client customer service, and financial education.

Eric: What do you think are the biggest risks facing microfinance clients?

Shameran: From a financial point of view, there are two or three risks that we’re particularly concerned about. One, of course, is something that’s been talked about a lot, the risk of overindebtedness. Bangladesh, although quite a mature microfinance market, is, in terms of overindebtedness, thankfully still quite low. But still I think overindebtedness is something that you always guard against because there is a lot of demand for credit and if microfinance institutions are not careful they can always have issues around overindebtedness of borrowers.

There are a lot of financial institutions nowadays that are kind of fly-by-night institutions that set up shop… Institutions that are typically unregulated. They come in, they offer products, they lure in clients, and then they disappear. I think around these issues the clients need more awareness, and these are some of the things our financial education components try to address.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

On Thursday NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a new weather and climate satellite that generates a near-global view of precipitation, closing previous large observation gaps. This development has the potential to inform an array of important weather-related activities, including weather index insurance.

The satellite, known as the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite, uses a radiometer and dual-frequency radar to measure the presence and even the intensity of rain, snow, and ice, to a time window of three hours, across a geographic range of 65 degrees north to 65 degrees south latitude. Data generated by the satellite will be publicly available to anyone around the world.

A Japanese H-IIA rocket launching the GPM satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center in Tanegashima, Japan.

NASA’s predecessor satellite was only able to detect rain, and not to varying intensities. It also covered a more limited geographic area of 35 degrees north to 35 degrees south. The new NASA satellite could prove an invaluable resource for weather-related initiatives like disaster response and relief.

Weather index insurance is well-positioned to benefit from the newly detailed precipitation data. Weather index insurance offers a payout to farmers in the event of extreme weather, such as drought or a hurricane. The financial support helps farmers sustain their families while their source of livelihood, their land, recovers. This safeguard also makes it less risky to take out loans to invest in the productivity of land. The payout is triggered by weather index readings that register as extreme weather. This mechanism yields low transaction costs – a necessity as it rarely is practical for insurance agents to travel to smallholder farmers and verify the weather and land conditions.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI 

In South Africa, where fewer than 20 percent of people have medical insurance, the alternative product of hospital cash plans (HCPs) is becoming increasingly popular, but it remains to be seen where within the country’s shifting healthcare landscape HCPs will settle, and what HCP products will look like as they mature. There are currently 2.4 million people covered by HCPs in South Africa and this number is growing by 50,000 each month.

As their name might suggest, hospital cash plans don’t offer comprehensive healthcare, but instead offer cash payouts at the time of hospitalization. Payouts depend on the premiums customers pay, which means that not all medical treatment can be fully covered. However, with HCPs rising popularity and the poor state of South Africa’s health system (the country was ranked 175 out of 191 in a WHO assessment of country-level health system performance), this product area deserves thorough attention, and a few recent reports from Finmark Trust offer just that.

But first, a few basics on HCPs. Premiums paid for HCPs are determined by the individual’s age and desired level of coverage. Their cash payout at the time of hospitalization is determined by the level of coverage and the number of days spent in the hospital. In some cases the type of medical treatment received affects payout, too. Though as payout is most often determined just by days in the hospital, not the cost of care, insurers typically don’t monitor how the financial support is spent. This allows policyholders to use the money for other expenses that come up during illnesses, like getting to hospital, and to substitute for income lost due to missed work. HCPs are aimed mainly at users of public health services. Only the wealthiest 20 percent of South Africans use private services, and they are more likely to be the users of traditional medical insurance. There are currently between 30 and 40 insurers offering HCPs and about 100 offering traditional healthcare.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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