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> Posted by Center Staff

Many enterprises operating in the informal economy provide low-quality working conditions for their employees. Workers might be exposed to difficult or dangerous environments, and the formalities of labor law are missing. A new project from the International Labour Organization’s Social Finance Program and the University of Mannheim in Germany tested the hypothesis that microfinance institutions, given their unique and expansive connections to the informal economy, can successfully apply interventions aimed at improving their clients’ working conditions. The project spanned 2008 to 2012 and included collaborations with 16 microfinance institutions. The project results are shared in the recently released report, “Microfinance for Decent Work – Enhancing the Impact of Microfinance.” It suggests that microfinance institutions indeed have the potential to leverage their positioning and resources to improve their clients’ business environments.

The project was carried out in four steps. First, the participating MFIs conducted an internal diagnostic to identify the most pressing work-related challenges faced by their clients. Across the breadth of identified challenges, the issues that the MFIs chose to address were reducing child labor, promoting business formalization, enhancing business performance, and reducing vulnerability, particularly in regards to risk management and over-indebtedness. Each MFI created its own intervention with its unique institutional context in mind. These innovations included launching new financial services, introducing non-financial services, offering packages of financial and non-financial services, and restructuring institutional operations. The innovations were piloted with client impact tracked to enable before and after comparisons in control and treatment groups.

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

Financial inclusion stories and research are published daily, lauding various efforts to bring lower-income people into the formal banking fold. All progress deserves celebration, but also closer examination. When a new initiative takes effect, or a new service deployed, how does that advance us in achieving financial inclusion? A backdrop of sound measurement is critical. A BBVA research team, Noelia Cámara and David Tuesta, recently set out to construct an index that measures the extent of financial inclusion at the country or region level. The index is discussed and applied to 82 countries in the team’s new paper, Measuring Financial Inclusion: A Multidimensional Index. We were especially intrigued to learn that this research incorporates both supply and demand-side data. I recently sat down with Cámara to talk about the project, from challenges in measuring financial inclusion to the implications of the newly-available index.

1. What are the challenges in measuring financial inclusion?

Many issues arise when it comes to measuring financial inclusion. First, there is no single definition for financial inclusion universally accepted in the literature. Most definitions include three dimensions: use, quality, and access. However, when it comes to defining these dimensions, no consensus is found. For instance, the use of financial services is part of the financial inclusion concept, but it is not clear what “use of financial services” really means. Thus, several questions come to the fore: Do we consider having a bank account in the formal financial system to be a necessary condition for financial inclusion? Is having a pre-paid card or microinsurance enough to classify an individual as included? Is using electronic payment intermediation (e.g. paying bills with a mobile phone) a sufficient condition?

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week global leaders across industries gathered in the tiny mountain town of Davos, Switzerland for the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF). (Though you probably already knew that, given the annual event’s ever-swelling stature and press.) The WEF fosters strategic dialogues in the hopes of developing ideas, insights, and partnerships around the most pressing issues and transformations reshaping our world. This year’s WEF included sessions from Jack Ma of Alibaba on the future of commerce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on global responsibilities in a digital age, IMF Director Christine Lagarde on global monetary policy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres on political affairs affecting the region, and Bill Gates on sustainable future development. Of course we were following the topic of financial inclusion, and the action that got underway made it a week worth noting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the financial inclusion happenings at Davos.

In the “Inclusive Growth in a Digital Age” session held on Wednesday, a panel, which included MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, considered how our age of digitization can confront income and wealth inequality, support investments in education and work-based training, and address vulnerable employment. Among the points of discussion was mobile phone penetration leveraged for financial services access. A full video recording of the session is available, here.

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> Posted by Center Staff

A mother and child stand outside a health clinic where they both received check-ups and necessary vitamins and vaccines. Great Rift Valley Region, Kenya

In Kenya, where public health insurance has been available since 1965 and access to health care is a constitutional right, only 20 percent of the country actually has access to some sort of medical coverage, according to the World Bank. With a population of 44 million, this means that 35 million are excluded from coverage and millions are unable to afford services at private or public health facilities. In terms of the money spent, about one quarter of health care services spending in Kenya comes out of pocket. Each year, about one million Kenyans fall below the poverty line because of health care related expenses. Recent investments in the industry indicate that this grim reality could be changing, however, and soon.

A few days ago fund manager LeapFrog Investments bought a majority stake in Resolution Insurance, Kenya’s fourth largest insurance provider, for $18.7 million. The new funds will go towards realizing Resolution’s growth strategy of diversifying product offerings and extending services access to more Kenyans and other East Africans. The investment comes at an exciting time for both investors and providers. Though coverage remains low overall, the industry is growing rapidly. The non-life insurance market in Kenya is expanding at 20 percent annually, with health insurance at 38 percent annually. The deal is currently undergoing final regulatory processes.

Beyond Resolution Insurance, LeapFrog recently raised $400 million which it says will go toward investments in financial services across Africa and Asia, with a quarter of funds reserved for East Africa.

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> Posted by Hillary Miller-Wise, CEO, Africa Region, Grameen Foundation

Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite once said of America’s health care system that “it is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” Imagine what he would have thought about some of the public health care systems in the developing world.

Consider Kenya, which is now a middle-income country, due to recent rebasing of the economic calculations. Public expenditure on health care is about 6 percent of GDP, compared to 9.3 percent in OECD countries. About 33 million Kenyans – or nearly 75 percent of the population – are uninsured, of whom 70 percent live on less than $2 per day. And there is no Obamacare on the horizon.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In 2012, developed countries spent 8.6 percent of GDP on insurance, while developing countries spent only 2.7 percent. Traditional insurance providers face difficulties when serving low-income and unbanked customers with traditional insurance products in areas like transaction size, client education, and outreach, among others. However, mobile technologies have disrupted the way insurance is delivered and in the last two years a new array of mobile microinsurance services have popped up. Earlier this year CGAP identified 74 operators with live mobile microinsurance services, making up an increasingly diverse space that is active in more countries, offering a wider range of products, and using different business models.

Two of these services stand out, given their success, both with leading mobile network operators (MNOs). Tigo Kiiray in Senegal enrolled 13 percent of Tigo’s 3 million subscriber base during its first year and a half of its launch. Talkshawk Mohafiz by Telenor Pakistan managed to issue 400,000 insurance policies within its first two months of operations. What have these models done to gain access to this historically difficult market segment?

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts on how to effectively deploy new technologies to the base of the pyramid, the increasing prominence of mobile savings and credit services, and the growing potential for impact investing in microinsurance.

How can innovative technologies be distributed and adopted at scale in the last mile? Tomohiro Hamakawa of Kopernik addresses this question in a new post on Next Billion. Drawing from a recent Kopernik report, Hamakawa expounds on five key factors to serve as guiding principles in the roll-out of empowering technologies to the BoP: activating a local network of trust; lowering financial barriers; riding the technology adoption wave; focusing on tangible benefits; and staying engaged, showing commitment.

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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

As if we needed more motivation to support the expansion of microinsurance, the increase in extreme weather is highlighting the ability of the financial service to spur climate change adaptation.

Farming in developing countries is responsible for 70 percent of the world’s food supply, and farmers in developing countries are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What will happen to the world’s food and to those making a living from small-scale agriculture when the frequency and intensity of extreme weather arising from climate change take stronger hold?

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> Posted by Annalisa Bianchessi, Microinsurance Network

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Although Africa has 17 percent of the world’s pastures and arable land, the value of premiums for agricultural insurance in Africa represents less than 0.7 percent of the world’s total. This remarkably low figure is deplorable when one considers that about 60 percent of the active population in Africa is working in the agricultural sector and that with the advent of climate change the risks in agricultural activities are becoming even more frequent and severe. The agriculture insurance sector in Africa is also unevenly distributed, with sector development in West Africa restricted to a handful of countries such as Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana. Should governments intervene to support the development of the agricultural insurance sector in Africa?

For smallholder farmers, agriculture insurance offsets risks associated with weather fluctuations. This risk reduction can make it more likely that a farmer will qualify for credit and thus invest in the tools and resources (e.g. seed, fertilizer, labor) needed prior to harvest that would potentially increase crop yields. Furthermore, it also provides farmers with the peace of mind required to invest savings into businesses and increases their confidence to engage in contracts with buyers and processors.

According to Ismaïla Diakité, President of COPROCUMA, a farmer cooperative in Mali, and spokesperson for a network of 500 cooperatives representing over 500,000 Malian farmers, “Microinsurance is an avenue for the people of Mali to develop our country.” Ismaïla recalls that a few years back, COPROCUMA had taken out a loan to sow 10,000 hectares of sesame seed. However due to bad weather the crop failed, and the cooperative and farmers ended up in debt. It was then that they realized the value of insurance. While very lucky (the lending institution cancelled their debt), the farmers embarked on an agriculture insurance scheme, which today is compulsory for all members of their cooperative. Ismaïla says, “Our main objective is to ensure the survival of our farmers, their life and their livelihood.” To this end, he believes that insurance is an essential part of the benefits that the cooperative needs to offer the farmers. When asked whether all farmers are happy with the compulsory insurance scheme he says, “A farmer cannot see the importance of microinsurance until he can see the bigger picture. In the sector I work in there will never be unanimous agreement on anything. However a few years into the insurance scheme, 80 percent of farmers in Mali are now convinced of the importance of agriculture microinsurance.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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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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