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Insurers are increasingly deploying “insurtech” innovations to connect with and serve lower-income customers

> 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.

New technologies are dramatically changing the landscape for insurance around the world and enabling insurers to reach new mass market segments. New data sources and analytical tools are changing risk models by enabling new ways to create, capture, and analyze valuable information that can help insurers better calculate and manage the risk associated with customers. Machine learning applied to satellite imagery is changing agricultural and disaster insurance, allowing for more sophisticated claims management, even facilitating pre-loss payments that can help minimize the cost of a disaster before it is full-blown. The expansion of identity solutions and onboarding options is lowering operations costs and enhancing convenience. These innovations are helping the global insurance industry transform from a passive risk-transmission industry into an active risk mitigation and advisory partner for individuals, businesses, and governments.

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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 Hillary Miller-Wise, CEO, Africa Region, Grameen Foundation

Embed from Getty Images

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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Microcredit Summit Campaign released their 2014 State of the Campaign report, sharing insights and exemplary initiatives that support the global goal of resilience for all. Resilience outlines where the microfinance industry stands in its mission to end poverty, and how synergies with other services and sectors, like healthcare, mobile phones, and social relief payments, are key to achieving even greater impact.

Worldwide, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty. One in eight people go to bed hungry and one in six children under the age of five are underweight. Every few years between 10 and 30 percent of the poorest households around the world work their way out of poverty, while roughly the same number fall below the poverty line. Several of these statistics, all highlighted in Resilience, come from the 2013 Millennium Development Goals report. In that report, it’s noted that in terms of the MDG to eliminate poverty, the world is about five years ahead of schedule, though of course progress around the world hasn’t been uniform. In one of the regions that has lagged, Sub-Saharan Africa, so too does financial inclusion. About 85 percent of those in the region don’t have a formal savings account, compared to 77 percent of the world’s poor globally. Even fewer individuals have access to formal credit or insurance products.

Nevertheless, the growth numbers of the microfinance industry for the past decade and a half are encouraging. In 1997, global client outreach totaled 13 million. By 2010, it grew to 205 million. After a dip in 2011 resulting from a loss of 15.4 million clients in India, industry outreach rebounded in 2012.

Resilience breaks down these numbers by income level, revealing an important trend. According to the statistics, during the past decade, for the first time the gap between total client outreach and the total number of clients who are among their country’s lowest income group has widened. At first glance, the numbers may be interpreted as suggesting that MFIs have become more interested in serving wealthier clients. The reality, however, is that more MFIs are adopting accurate benchmarking tools for assessing poverty, such as the Progress out of Poverty Index. It turns out, many MFIs’ previous estimates of their outreach to the very poor have been inaccurate – overestimating how effectively they are serving this client segment.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

I was recently asked to give a talk at the University of Pennsylvania’s 8th (!) annual Microfinance Conference. This year’s theme, “Microfinance Beyond Its Roots” set me in search of ways in which the microfinance industry is moving into areas beyond its original microcredit core. Of course, this process has been going on for a long time, and so there are many topics to choose from.

I decided to look at health care, partly because, as every staff member of a microfinance institution knows, health setbacks are one of the most frequent sources of repayment problems among low income clients. As they learned about the health vulnerabilities of their clients, microfinance organizations began to invest in experiments, bringing their businesslike approach to bear on a challenge that is often dealt with in heavily subsidized, non-market ways. Today, many of these programs have matured and grown, even as new ideas are being tested.

I looked among the organizations belonging to the Microfinance CEO Working Group, and I found that nearly all have something exciting going on in health care. Approaches include some combination of direct health care service provision, health insurance coverage, and education. Many are using technology as a means of reaching people at scale and low cost.

The meetings associated with group lending provide a convenient and cost-effective platform for health services, and adding a health component to group microcredit is probably the earliest and most widespread model. Health education was perhaps the starting point, as pioneered by Freedom from Hunger and also implemented by Opportunity International. Today the services often reach farther (while health education continues to be important). ProMujer, for example, directly employs nurses and other health practitioners to staff fixed and mobile clinics available to ProMujer members. They focus on maternal and reproductive health, as well as screening for the chronic diseases that are increasingly major health issues in Latin America. Hundreds of thousands of women get access to health care through ProMujer’s efforts.

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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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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.