What if you could purchase life or health insurance free from your wireless carrier or bank as easy as buying a ring tone? This may be the ultimate insurance financial inclusion tool in Africa and elsewhere.
Buy X mobile minutes or deposit Y money in your bank to obtain cost-free insurance. Customers can opt-in by punching a short SMS code into their mobile phone in response to an ad.
The Banking Association of South Africa defines financial inclusion as:
“Access and usage of a broad range of affordable, quality financial services and products, in a manner convenient to the financially excluded, unbanked and under-banked; in an appropriate but simple and dignified manner with the requisite consideration to client protection. Accessibility should be accompanied by usage which should be supported through the financial education of clients.”
In this first podcast interview series about insurance financial inclusion, Richard Leftley, MicroEnsure CEO, candidly describes the company’s mission, beginnings and extraordinary growth. The company has seven million people under its insurance coverage and expects ten million by year’s end.
In 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began funding MicroEnsure. The company went public three years ago and now offers life and health insurance for medical emergencies, funerals, fires, livestock death and crop loss. Paying claims takes 72 hours max.
The company promotes itself through mobile SMS/texting, TV, radio and billboard advertising. Inbound call centers cross-sell when customers call. Agents roam key markets. MicroEnsure accounts for its success by making the sign-up process simple.
Insurance Financial Inclusion Micropayments Spreading Worldwide
The company operates in 16 countries with millions of new customers and service providers adopting MicroEnsure’s creative marketing strategy: Use banks, insurance companies and mobile operators as partners that offer financial products at no or low-cost. When charging customers for extra services, think micro-payments that are affordable.
Convince customers to use more air minutes and make larger bank deposits. Then upsell/cross-sell. For example, families opt in to free life insurance for the husband. Then, based on increased deposits, offer customers an upgrade for $1 a month for additional coverage.
MicroEnsure’s operator partners benefit as customer loyalty increases through reduced market churn. This reduces customers changing SIM’s in their mobile phones which increases customer ARPU’s. Partners invest only 3% of revenues and receive 10% back.
Richard Leftley Background
Leftley was a successful businessman in London. During a vacation, he took a vacation to Zambia where he stayed with a poor family. The husband developed HIV and required much of the family’s money for his care. They lost their home and lived out of a car when he died. Richard wondered why poor people didn’t buy insurance. Was it me cost? A lack of understanding of life insurance’s benefits?
Richard left his job to work for Opportunity International in Chicago. Opportunity International provides savings, small business loans, insurance and training to more than 5 million people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. Clients in 22 countries use these financial services to expand businesses, provide for their families, create jobs for their neighbors and build a safety net for the future.
“Fire in Your Belly”
During our interview Richard talks humbly and persuasively about banks, insurance companies and mobile operators taking a “leap of faith” to improve financial inclusion. CMO’s must be convinced in their guts that MicroEnsure’s work is necessary and can generate profits for its partners. “We must not lose focus on why we’re doing this…we need to affect people’s lives.”
He talks about an event that brought him to his knees in Bangladesh. When children get sick, the government is supposed to supply health care, but doctors aren’t there. When he visited the country, one woman lost her child who grew sick. She went to a non-profit mission clinic; but payment was required up front. She ran back home and sold everything she had only to return to the clinic and find her dead child. Richard sat in the slum saying “I can’t stand by without an answer and do nothing…You must have ‘fire in your belly.’ I’m going to do something about this.” He joined the financial inclusion movement and left his job to make a difference.
He feels fortunate to have a connection. “It’s too easy sitting around and worrying about the problem without doing anything. This work forces you to be imaginative about the world’s problems.” “MicroEnsure has had to fail a lot…It’s worth doing”
Note: Richard Leftley, one of the global financial inclusion pioneers, will be featured in Carol Realini’s forthcoming book: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid. See her Facebook page for more information.