Why isn’t there more micro insurance in South Africa

After a recent Actuarial Society sessional presentation I gave on micro insurance and the regulatory developments, I was asked why there aren’t more micro insurers operating in South Africa. Here is a slightly paraphrased version of the full question:

The larger insurance players seem reluctant to enter the market. Why do you think this market has been slow on the uptake? The regulatory barriers to entry certainly don’t appear to be that restrictive so either existing insurance companies are not flexible enough to offer the products required or it’s a poor business decision/larger risk that they’re unwilling to take on. Do you have an opinion on what is causing the low number of microinsurance players in the market?

So here goes. Certainly a far from complete or perfect answer, but a starting point based on my discussions with many people and entities actively interested in pursuing the market over the last few years.

What do we mean by micro insurance in the South African context?

The issue with micro insurance is scale, particularly of distribution and distribution costs. Okay, followed closely by premium collections (and that is about maintaining scale so that you don’t lose insurance policies as quickly as you sell them). These are the two issues that need to be solved for real success for any new micro insurer or a new platform for micro insurance.

Micro insurance and funeral insurance

Whether micro insurance is big in South Africa or not comes down to how one defines “micro insurance”.  There are major life insurance players that have funeral products with modest premiums, below R100 or even R50 per month. So those large insurers (major traditional insurers plus the bancassurers) are operating in this space already, but as “assistance business” as the current licence category is termed.

Under some definitions, South Africa is already one of the largest micro insurance markets in the world. On other measures, there are still plenty of excluded people who could benefit from appropriately priced, appropriate value insurance on a micro scale. I still hope to see viable products with premiums below R10 per month (and not on some misleading bundled basis) or even less on a micro-transaction basis.

These players are less interested in the particulars of a micro insurance licence because they have yet to see a material benefit. Product restrictions and the complexity of an additional licence don’t warrant lower capital since they aren’t actually constrained by regulatory capital but rather by their own view of economic capital.

Distribution innovation

Some of these players have tried innovative products (pre-paid funeral plans, allowing skipping premiums) with low, no or at best moderate success. The bancassurers push heavily into ATM, USSD and call centre sales rather than branch sales because they are lower cost, and sometimes lower risk of anti-selection. Getting life insurance via the banking apps is an easy step (and some have taken it) so probably the view is that a dedicated app just for insurance is unnecessary.  The banking brands (target of popular complaints as they sometimes are) are still generally well trusted. Continue reading “Why isn’t there more micro insurance in South Africa”

Downwards counterfactual analysis

Stress and scenario testing are important risk assessment tools.  They also provide useful ways to prepare in advance for adverse scenarios so that management doesn’t have to create everything from first principles when something similar occurs.

But trying to imagine scenarios, particularly very severe scenarios, isn’t straightforward. We don’t have many examples of very extreme events.

Some insurers will dream up scenarios from scratch. It’s also common to refer to prior events and run the current business through those dark days. The Global Financial Crisis is a favourite – how would our business manage under credit spread spikes, drying up of liquidity, equity fall markets, higher lapses, lower sales, higher retrenchment claims, higher individual and corporate defaults, switches of funds out of equities, early withdrawals and surrenders and increased call centre volumes?

Downwards counterfactual analysis is the: Continue reading “Downwards counterfactual analysis”

Alternatives to uncanny

This is a rant about people who are wrong on the internet.  Also, why Huffington Post is a platform for big bad wolves. And why the asymmetric information and importance of financial advice means it’s not okay. Maybe this is just part of Cunningham’s Law.

Clickbait headline? Check.

3 Smart Alternatives to Life Insurance

Numbered list (the second one will surprise you…)? Check

Also, another numbered article by the same author “5 Viable Uses For A Reverse Mortgage”. No, I’m deliberately not linking. Then, without irony, another article, “The Death Of Click Bait Is Finally Here”.

Okay, but back to the actual topic. The first sentence in the article:

The simplest alternatives to life insurance include investing money and or saving it. If you are able to set aside enough funds each year, you can very well never have to worry about holding a life insurance policy.

So, in other words, a smart alternative to life insurance is just not having insurance at all.

The other two “smart alternatives” are, actually, life insurance. So the sum total of smart alternatives offered are “no insurance” and “life insurance”.

Maybe it’s fitting that the author describes himself:

Lazar is pronounced in his uncanny but effective content…

uncanny: strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.  Check.

 

Do Data Lakes hide Loch Ness Monsters?

I had a discussion with a client recently about the virtues of ensuring data written into a data warehouse is rock solid and understood and well defined.

My training and experience has given me high confidence that this is the right way forward for typical actuarial data.  Here I’m talking in force policy data files, movements, transactions, and so on.  This is really well structured data that will be used many times by different people and can easily be processed once, “on write”, stored in the data warehouse to be reliably and simply retrieved whenever necessary. Continue reading “Do Data Lakes hide Loch Ness Monsters?”

ENID not Blyton

ENID is a term widely used, just generally not in South Africa. For some reason we didn’t import the term along with most of Solvency II.

This has nothing to do with the Famous Five. While it is most common in the general insurance space, it is relevant across the spectrum of risk management and assumption setting.

Events Not In Data or “ENID” is the forgotten cousin of “what to do with outliers in your data”.

Outliers and where to find them

Outliers are observed values substantially different from others in a sample. Some more formal definitions include:

“An outlier is an observation that lies an abnormal distance from other values in a random sample from a population”

“an outlier is an observation point that is distant from other observations”

Not these sort of outliers. Entertaining book though.


How to deal with outliers?

Simple question, complex answer. It depends a great deal on the context.

Ultimately you need to make the judgement call “are these outliers under- or over-represented in the data”. Continue reading “ENID not Blyton”

Board game recommendations (and reasons to use them)

I’ve played plenty of board games in my life. I’m not (only) talking about Monopoly.

I went to Cambridge (to visit, very sadly, not to study) in 2003. I found an awesome board game store and tried to buy Diplomacy.  The incredibly wise assistant basically forced me to buy Settlers of Catan before he would allow me to buy Diplomacy.

About Settlers of Catan

I have played hundreds of hours of Settlers, and recently gave Diplomacy away never having played it. I still believe it’s an awesome game.  (Strategy, relationships, IQ and EQ, competition and a little backstabbing. What’s not to like?) However, it  requires having enough people, the right sort of people. enough time (a weekend apparently is ideal) and ideally a couple people who have played before because it is complicated.

Now, Settlers has plenty of scope for tension as it is.  I kicked my best friend out of my flat once after a kingmaking incident. I’ve had arguments with significant others over games. And this is Settlers, not Diplomacy.

Do I recommend Settlers? Continue reading “Board game recommendations (and reasons to use them)”