Can microinsurance close Africa’s insurance gap?
Africa has traditionally been the world’s most uninsured, and underinsured, continent. That’s rapidly changing, as the booming popularity of microinsurance gives millions of Africans access to life and hospital insurance for the first time.
As its name suggests, microinsurance offers consumers financial protection against specific risks – like hospital cover for accidents, for example – for tiny premiums. The impact is transformative, as it shields people with lower incomes from the economic shocks that would otherwise keep them locked into an endless cycle of poverty.
The rapid growth of microinsurance is turning traditional insurance models on their heads – and changing long-standing perceptions of insurance as complex and expensive, said Marius Botha, the Group CEO of aYo Holdings.
“The traditional insurance industry has struggled to deliver relevant, affordable products to lower-income and rural audiences. The game-changer has been the ability to reach people through mobile handsets, which gives microinsurers the ability to deliver an insurance product using USSD codes on old-fashioned feature phones,” said Botha.
South Africa has by far the highest insurance penetration rate on the continent, at 16.99%. Namibia, Lesotho, Mauritius and Zimbabwe have insurance penetration rates ranging between 4%-7%. More than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have an insurance penetration rate of less than 1%.
While ease of use is a major factor in the growth of microinsurance, affordability plays a key role too. If consumers can’t afford the premium, they won’t buy the product. Insurers like aYo allow customers to buy as much insurance as they can afford, without locking them into regular premiums.
“It’s all about value. A seemingly insignificant premium can deliver great value for the amount of cover,” said Botha.
But the real driver of microinsurance’s momentum across the continent is the changing perception of insurance. Many Africans see insurance as something that’s reserved for the middle class, or not to be trusted. Now, a growing cohort of microinsurance customers is seeing that it works, and they’re spreading the word.
“A lot of our growth is being driven by word of mouth. The more people see that microinsurance is real, and the more they benefit, the more they talk about it in the community. This is helping break down a lot of the negative perceptions around insurance,” said Botha.
As a result, microinsurance is starting to move up the value chain to close the insurance gap in markets that would previously have been the domain of the traditional insurance sector. aYo has already seen a growing trend of people with mid-range incomes ‘buying down’ into the microinsurance space to cover their specific risks.
“I’m always hesitant to use the word ‘disrupt’. Our experience is that the traditional approach of comprehensive insurance is not what is always needed, and there’s a huge appetite for a model that says consumers can start their insurance small and build from there. Perhaps, once people have seen the value in microinsurance, they will see more value in ‘bigger’ insurance for the future, where they can select what cover they need based on affordability,” said Botha.
“At the end of the day, microinsurance protects those who need it the most. People with a low-income need insurance even more than those with higher incomes, because they are more vulnerable and have a smaller cushion of resources to draw upon in times of need. They’re one disaster away from falling below the breadline. By providing insurance to these audiences, we’re driving real financial inclusion on the continent.”