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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 »

> Posted by Richard Koven, Consultant, MicroInsurance Centre

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.

Both client value and a business case are needed for microinsurance to be sustainable. In an ideal world, the two ultimately reinforce one another. Value is recognized by clients, leading to greater satisfaction with and demand for insurance, while demand leads to reasonable profits for insurers, enhancing their ability to provide value to clients in the medium and long-term.

In an effort to better understand how profitability and client value complement one another and how they conflict, the MicroInsurance Centre’s Microinsurance Learning and Knowledge (MILK) project conducted extensive research on health microinsurance in Kenya.

Understanding client value and the business case

To understand client value, MILK conducted two “Client Math” studies. These quantitative assessments seek to understand the value of insurance compared to other risk management tools by exploring the differences in how insured and uninsured households cope with financial shocks. We looked at hospitalization insurance products offered by two private insurers: the Afya Yetu Initiative, an NGO that oversees and implements 30 Community-Based Health Insurance schemes, and the commercial insurer British-American Insurance Company Kenya (Britam). We surveyed low-income people (insured and uninsured), asking them about the direct, indirect, and opportunity costs they incurred in connection with a high-cost hospitalization as well as the strategies they used to finance those costs.

Overview of products studied

We found that while both products provided value for clients, the Afya Yetu product offered more generous coverage. Post-claim, Afya Yetu policyholders paid only a quarter of the total costs of hospitalization of their uninsured counterparts. By contrast, Britam’s clients paid 80 percent as much as their uninsured counterparts. In both cases, insured respondents were able to finance their costs more independently than uninsured respondents by reducing spending in the short-term rather than taking out loans. The Afya Yetu product is simpler and was thus better understood by respondents than Britam’s more complex product, which offers eight different levels of coverage. Afya Yetu uses a relatively “high touch” enrollment process that leverages existing relationships with agents from within the communities of the target populations, thereby educating clients and building trust. Britam’s clients, by contrast, struggled to understand their coverage; of the insured respondents in our study, 60 percent reported paying more than they expected to pay for their hospitalization.

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> Posted by Richard Leftley, Chief Executive Officer, MicroEnsure

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.

Last year a statistic was released claiming that there are 6 billion phones in circulation around the world. It is clear that mobile-based delivery channels are perhaps one of the greatest opportunities in working to achieve human and market development goals, including financial inclusion.

Microinsurance is one of the great beneficiaries of mobile-based payments and service delivery innovations, as shown by the rapid growth of mobile microinsurance (MMI) products from an estimated 20 in 2006 to 84 in 2013. Today much of the growth in microinsurance is through partnerships with mobile network operators that are keen to increase sales and retain customers. But demand side obstacles persist and pose a significant challenge to growth and sustainability. Many products are available that are sound and beneficial, but clients are not picking them up. Why is that?

mobile phone

Over the past nine years we have provided microinsurance to millions of clients via a range of distribution channels including banks and microfinance institutions, SACCOs, cooperatives, and even churches. However, our real breakthrough came when we realized that no one wakes up wanting to buy insurance, but people do wake up worried about the risks they face. Through our work with mobile network operators, we have demonstrated that the mass market will radically change their consumer behavior in return for free insurance that addresses their risk.

Recently I stopped a man in the street and asked him if he wanted to buy life insurance. However hard I tried I could not make the sale, but when I asked him how much money he sent home to his mother every month, he became excited about a product that would keep providing that remittance to his mother if he had an accident and died.

Our ability to provide great microinsurance products is driven by our capacity to consider the needs and attitudes of our clients and then integrate these types of insights about choice and value into each product.

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> Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

Microinsurance matters, especially as we see an increase in climate change related disasters.

On October 28, Alexia Latortue of the U.S. Treasury moderated the opening plenary of the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum featuring two leaders in microinsurance, Michel Khalaf of MetLife and Martyn Parker of Swiss Re. One of Alexia’s remarks at the Global Forum deeply resonates with me today: “The occurrence of a risk event can set a family back an entire generation.” Among other things, she suggested, there are new and emerging risks linked to climate change.

Shortly after the Forum, we saw haunting evidence of this. On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of the Visayas region in the Philippines, with the city of Tacloban being the hardest hit. Typhoon Haiyan is a reminder of why we must prepare to face natural disasters. Microinsurance is one form of advance preparation that can prove instrumental in the disaster rebuilding stage.

In a disaster prone country such as the Philippines, where over 41 percent of the population lives on under $2 per day, ensuring greater access to microinsurance could make an enormous impact. In the country’s rural areas, which encompass roughly half of Filipinos and about 80 percent of those living in poverty, agriculture is the primary source of income. Government data from 2009 indicates that poverty among fishermen is at 41 percent, with farmers close behind at 36 percent. Think about the opportunities for providing microinsurance to farmers and fishers, whose livelihoods and families depend on productive land and assets that can be tremendously affected by weather!

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> Posted by Véronique Faber, Executive Director, Microinsurance Network

Konrad Valladares of the Center of Financial Studies and Véronique Faber at the FI2020 Global Forum.

Konrad Valladares of the Peruvian Bank Association and Véronique Faber at the FI2020 Global Forum.

Three months ago, Jeremy Leach from Bankable Frontier Associates rightly asked in this same forum: “Microinsurance: Can the Cinderella of Financial Inclusion Join the Global Ball?” This question rang a bell with many practitioners and advocates in this field. Microinsurance is often the last service listed when talking about financial inclusion tools. However, credit, savings, and insurance work more effectively in combination rather than in sequence. In stimulating and maintaining financial inclusion, it is crucial that those with a limited income have a safety net preventing them from falling into poverty when hit by a crisis, catastrophic or lifecycle related, and become more resilient against future risks.

Since Leach’s blog post, the sector has been granted three wishes (by its fairy godmother or perhaps as a result of good common sense). If these wishes are used well, insurance for low-income people will be an integral part of any global financial inclusion strategy from now on.

The first wish came in the form of visibility and awareness raising. The opening panel at the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum had representatives from MetLife and Swiss Re debating how financial inclusion factors like income growth, new technologies, and government prioritization play out in the context of insurance. For the rest of the conference, insurance was on every participant’s mind when thinking about the possibilities of what can be achieved in the next seven years. This is important because insurance is essential for sustainable development and financial inclusion.

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> Posted by Aparna Dalal and Craig Churchill, International Consultant and Team Leader, Microinsurance Innovation Facility, International Labour Organization

New impact evidence shows that microinsurance products can provide financial protection, reduce vulnerability, and improve access to critical services for low-income households. And with innovations in product and delivery, more people now have access to microinsurance. The sector grew from an estimated 78 million clients in 2007 to 135 million in 2009, to 500 million in 2012. Does this mean that microinsurance has finally arrived?

The answer depends on where you look. While we have seen breakthroughs in certain countries (such as India, the Philippines, South Africa, and Colombia), glaring geographic disparities in coverage persist, with vast deserts without coverage amid oases of success. Common challenges facing countries with low coverage include inappropriate regulation, lack of capacity within the insurance industry, lack of infrastructure for distribution, limited data, and insufficient knowledge of insurance among low-income households.

These challenges vary with market maturity. For instance, insurers in a country in the nascent stage of development might have limited capacity to offer mass products beyond credit-life and they often have to develop marketing strategies and distribution infrastructure from the ground-up. They must find ways to reach persons who are unfamiliar with insurance. In contrast, insurers in growing markets are looking for new distribution partners and developing more customized products to address specific client needs.

Stages of Market Development

Stages of Market Development

A systematic approach is needed for countries to address these challenges and accelerate the development of insurance markets. This approach includes two core elements: 1) catalyzing stakeholders and 2) evolving products.

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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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