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How partnerships are enabling insurers to profitably reach the base of the economic pyramid

> Posted by Center Staff

This post is adapted from the recently-released publication “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

Inclusive insurers cannot afford to go to market alone. They must attract and connect with new customers through distribution partners that already interact with those customers. Such partners can offer scale and cost efficiency, creating a solution that works for the insurer, distributor, and customer, even when premiums are very small.  In some eyes, this is the most critical piece of the inclusive insurance puzzle.

“Good distribution partners are by far the most important issue,” says Martin Hintz, former coordinator of microinsurance at Allianz.

As the inclusive insurance industry has bloomed over the last ten years, we’ve seen providers link with obvious distribution partners, like microfinance institutions, as well as with some surprising ones, like retailers and pawn shops.

As part of our latest report Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers, we asked providers about their preferred distribution channels. Here’s what we found.

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Microfinance institutions are uniquely positioned to benefit from emerging technologies but one key input remains largely missing

> Posted by Jacqueline Urquizo, Principal, Sygoes

When most people talk about digital finance, they are referring to business-to-customer (B2C) solutions like mobile banking products and other digital payment mechanisms. E-payments undoubtedly have the potential to reach and benefit remote populations, but there are other fintech solutions that make me even more enthusiastic. Though perhaps less developed, innovative business-to-business (B2B) solutions represent a tremendous boon for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and other institutions looking to advance financial inclusion. Among their many benefits, new B2B solutions have the potential to improve internal operational efficiencies drastically, lowering the cost of doing business, which in turn supports lower prices for financial services and expanded access to excluded populations.

A few examples of B2B fintech applications are: artificial intelligence (AI) that provides cognitive analysis and advice to credit officers evaluating the creditworthiness of previously-unbanked individuals; distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) that enable the viability of new forms of collateral that wouldn’t be otherwise trusted or usable without digitizing them in a ledger of value; and data analytics to better predict risks such as liquidity issues, client desertion, or loan default.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Financial Inclusion Consultant

This post accompanies the release of “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a new joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

I have been an inclusive insurance enthusiast ever since I worked for Opportunity International and witnessed the experiments that later became MicroEnsure. In those early days, Richard Leftley framed insurance as the missing piece in the game of Chutes & Ladders (Snakes & Ladders for those outside the U.S.). He likened credit and savings to ladders that could provide a way up for those with lower incomes –but without insurance, each borrower or saver was just one disaster away from slipping back down into destitution. I remember his—at the time—revolutionary concept of paying insurance claims within 10 days or less. He would say that days-to-payout was the only report he wanted on his desk every morning. (Today, of course, payouts can be automatic or even come pre-loss.)

As is often the case with breakthroughs, Richard, of course, was not alone. Thanks to many innovators, an entire industry has emerged with profitable models reaching millions of people, and there is a growing understanding around the world, across social strata of the impact that insurance can have for families, communities and societies. The NGOs that pioneered microinsurance spurred the interest of commercial giants such as Allianz, AXA, MetLife, Swiss Re and Zurich, which have lent their considerable weight to solving the business challenges of extending insurance to underserved and unserved customers. Market catalysts such as A2ii, MicroInsurance Centre, MicroInsurance Network, ILO’s Impact Insurance Facility, and Cenfri have offered insights on everything from the customer experience, to good product design, to proving the business case, to creating an enabling regulatory environment for reaching new insurance markets.

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> Posted by Carmen Paraison, Senior Program Associate, Africa, the Smart Campaign

Nigeria has an ambitious target of including 70 percent of its population in the formal financial services fold by 2020, from a baseline of 44 percent with access to an account in 2014. But financial inclusion involves a lot more than account access. The Center for Financial Inclusion defines financial inclusion as a state in which all people who can use them have access to a full suite of quality financial services at affordable prices delivered by a range of providers in a competitive market with convenience, dignity and consumer protections, to financially capable clients. Protection for consumers is an important part of that definition, and I recently had the opportunity to visit Lagos to learn more about consumer protection challenges in the country. In particular, I wanted to see how Smart Certification can help Nigeria reach its financial inclusion goals in a way that provides benefits to customers.

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New report from CFI Fellows Program on effective agent banking

> Posted by Shreya Chatterjee and Misha Sharma, Senior Research Associate and Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

India’s financial services industry is poised for a digital revolution. From payment banks to India Stack to the recent expansion of mobile financial services, policy makers and financial service providers are energetically pursuing digitization of financial services. But the country still has a tremendous way to go. Roughly half the population has low digital literacy, and adoption of digital financial services (DFS) is skewed towards higher income population segments. For example, only 9 percent of those with lower education levels are online, as compared to 38 percent for those with higher education levels.

As CFI Fellows, we explored how frontline banking agents can advance the adoption of DFS by helping first-time DFS users become comfortable transacting in new ways. We evaluated the factors currently shaping the adoption of DFS by emerging consumers in India and assessed how well agents are playing their crucial role in helping customers successfully transition to digital platforms.

In the blog post we wrote at the outset of our project, we pointed out that there are benefits and drawbacks to deploying human touch in digital financial services, and that an optimal mix of human and technology-enabled customer touchpoints needs to be achieved. Over-reliance on banking agents could cause overdependence on the part of customers, possibly eliminating potential cost savings unlocked by technology. But banking agents may also present great benefits, including in assisting with product adoption, facilitating transactions, resolving problems, building trust, and supporting customers’ transitions to more advanced services.

However, not all agent banking services are created equal, and in India we observe a wide range of models in action. In our research we studied three types of agents, each with a different profile and relationship to their parent organization. We wanted to answer these questions:
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Insights from new CFI Fellows research on integrating human touch in Kenya’s digital financial services landscape.

> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow

Mbugua, owner of a restaurant, a butchery, and a dry goods store in Nairobi, Kenya has actively used financial services to grow his businesses from the meager beginnings of a small stall selling boiled cow heads. He is currently juggling four digital loans and two microfinance loans. Whenever possible, Mbugua prefers to interact with his financers digitally to save time. Yet, like most of the Kenyans my research associate and I spoke with as part of our CFI Fellows research project, Mbugua considers in-person interaction to be critical at certain stages. “Face-to-face is tiresome. There’s a time factor,” he said. “But it’s 100 percent perfect. Your questions will be exhausted. And you can’t negotiate with the phone.”

Our research seeks to understand when and why customers prefer human over digital interfaces across their financial services customer journeys – and vice versa. We focused on value-added financial services, including loans, savings, and insurance, and we chose Kenya because of the country’s deep penetration and market maturity of mobile phone-based financial services. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 104 respondents.

We discovered that a “centaur” solution—one that unites the strengths of both tech and human touch—offers the most promise for both customers and financial service providers (FSPs) targeting the base of the pyramid.

Digital interfaces outperform human interaction in a number of areas: digital services are often more convenient (once you learn how to use them), more predictable and consistent (with the exception of loan approvals and rejections, which are often opaque), and less stressful for customers during collections. However, most Kenyans – even those who already use low-touch digital products – prefer to interact with a person face-to-face at key stages in their customer journey. We found that while Kenyans are very comfortable conducting transactions digitally, other key aspects of the financial service customer journey are not adequately handled by digital means alone.

Like most of our respondents, Mbugua wants to interact directly with a person to accomplish three critical tasks:

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> Posted by Center Staff

Are you working to expand quality financial services access? The 2018 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place March 25-30, 2018 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll join us!

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> Posted by Ana Ruth Medina Arias, Lead Specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Smart Campaign

“The risk is to regulate by anecdotes and not by evidence.” – Mariela Zaldivar, Deputy Superintendent, the Superintendency of Banking, Insurance and Private Pension Fund of Peru (SBS Peru)

In recent years, Peru has called for our attention not only for being at the top of the Global Microscope’s international country rankings for the most conducive environment for financial inclusion, but also for its historic collaborative effort to establish a fully-interoperable nationwide digital payments platform (Bim) to support the supply of financial services. But buckle up, there is more.

The country’s regulator, the Superintendency of Banking, Insurance and Private Pension Fund of Peru (SBS Peru), has taken client protection very seriously, and despite already having very robust systems (on grievance redress and dispute resolution, for example), it continues to lead with groundbreaking policy changes based on evidence and research to ensure that regulation is aligned with the needs and capabilities of the end client. The Smart Campaign is proud to have collaborated with the SBS on these policy changes.

Client Voices was a research project of the Smart Campaign that directly asked clients in four countries (Peru, Benin, Georgia and Pakistan) about their experiences with financial providers and what they thought constituted good and bad treatment. In Peru, the project was made possible through strong support from the SBS, which was involved from the very beginning, providing substantive inputs to all project phases. However, their engagement did not stop there. The SBS is also committed to implementing the client protection recommendations arising from the project.

Here is how the SBS turned the major findings of the research into an opportunity for policy improvement in the area of financial consumer protection.

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BRAC Uganda shares strategy and sustainability insights from its transition from an MFI to a bank.

By Emily Coppel and Isabel Whisson, BRAC

Woman holds carton of eggs

©BRAC/Alison Wright

BRAC Uganda Microfinance is pursuing a shift in its regulatory status that will allow it to broaden the landscape of financial services it provides to Uganda’s rural poor.

BRAC, the largest microfinance provider in Uganda, currently serves more than 200,000 predominantly rural, female clients, through more than 150 branches across nearly every district in the country. In the nine years since the microfinance company was established, BRAC has provided microloans to poor women (a basic loan ranges from US $55 – $1,400), and small enterprise loans for male and female business owners (from US $1,400 – $10,000). Its current portfolio is around US $45 million. This year, BRAC submitted its application to transform into a bank. In Uganda, it was a Tier 4 institution, a category for unregulated credit-only NGOs, and money lenders. After the transformation, BRAC will become a regulated Credit Institution, under Tier 2, allowing it to expand its suite of services for clients – most notably, to savings accounts.

The process of transitioning to a regulated institution in Uganda is a lengthy one, and requires the organization to strategically analyze its goals and pro-poor model. Much can be learned from this process that can inform others considering a similar transformation to expand services for clients. As with any significant change, the organization is already facing new challenges that must be carefully and creatively navigated so as not to alienate its customer base.
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> Posted by Rupert Scofield, Chair of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI)

A meeting of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion in September 2017 (pictured from left to right: Shameran Abed, Jesse Fripp, Steve Hollingworth, Maria Cavalcanti, Michael Schlein, Sharlene Brown, Rupert Scofield, and Robert Dunn. Not pictured: Christian Pennotti, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, and Michael Mithika)

In 2011, I joined the inaugural meeting of CEOs that led to the formation of the Microfinance CEO Working Group. Nearly seven years later, my colleagues and I have continued to enjoy the trust and collaboration made possible by sitting together and sharing our strategies, challenges, and opportunities. We have encouraged the sharing of information among key senior staff in seven departments such as risk management, social performance, and digital financial services, across our networks. This collective of senior managers, which we refer to as peer groups, find the conversations at their levels insightful and that they allow for greater efficiency at solving common problems. In some cases, members benefit from non-proprietary work and processes developed by another. In other cases, we are creating the solutions together. Today, we truly recognize that we are no longer a working group, but a strong partnership committed to advancing financial inclusion in a responsible manner. It is my pleasure to share our new name: Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI).

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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.