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”

Coffee as the thin edge

Pick n Pay is starting to gain some useful insights into customer behaviour and purchasing decisions at different stores. They’re using coffee as a key product to better understand who buys what, where and when.  They’re tossing out (more likely de-emphaszing) LSMs as a method of categorising customers and moving to more sophisticated measures (including whether the purchaser has children or not, but also I’d expect location, purchase frequency, average basket size, mix of goods etc.)

Pick n Pay had to spend a fortune on the Smart Shopper system and has ongoing expenses in terms of rewards and analysis. The curious thing for me is how many loyalty cards incur the system and reward costs for retailers, but without gaining the full benefit of analysis and thus insight into customers.

I don’t get tailored book suggestions from Exclusive Books. They also haven’t tried to entice me back to their stores since I started buying first from Bookfinder.com and then almost exclusively ebooks from Amazon. They’ve basically lost a customer and haven’t done anything about it.

Even my friend’s St Elmos offers sweet deals to customers who haven’t ordered in a while to entice them back. Pick n Pay turned sub R100 pm customers into R350 pm customers (at least while the special was one) by specifically targeting customers that are familiar with Pick n Pay but need a push to become regular, high-spending customers.

I haven’t had a movie card with Ster Kinekor in a while, but I always use the same email address and credit when I purchase tickets online (which I do almost universally). There have been periods of several months where I haven’t gone to the movies, but no attempt from Ster Kinekor to woo me back with free popcorn or a careful movie recommendation.

Retailers are missing a trick to get an edge over their competitors.


Medical Schemes, discrimination and the CPA

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) protects consumers from abuse by enforcing fair practices, improved disclosure and added minimum warranties etc,

It’s a good piece of legislation, even if at times some aspects of it may result in greater costs than benefits.

TimesLive has a story about the alleged noncompliance of medical schemes with the CPA.

Some of the issues may have merit, but this struck me as particularly troubling:

According to the act, it is unfair when a consumer is discriminated against on the grounds of age.

Our constitution explicitly allows discrimination on actuarially sound rating factors that have both a statistical and causal link. This is how insurance is South Africa still uses underwriting to select homogenous groups of risks and to limit anti-selection by policyholders. If widespread anti-selection were to occur, then life insurance would not be viable.

Medical Schemes in South Africa have only very limited underwriting options in order to provide as many citizens as possible with fair health coverage. “Late joiners” are charged a premium since they haven’t contributed to the societal risk pool since they were most healthy and therefore haven’t paid “their fair share”. This has to do with a specifically identified risk rather than general discrimination based on age. These restrictions are important to maintain the solvency and viability of medical schemes.

Some schemes prevent women who fall pregnant within nine months of joining the scheme from claiming for the pregnancy even though they pay full premiums

This point is more tricky, but it does again reflect a misunderstanding. “Full premiums” on an actuarial sound basis have probably not been paid, since the fair premium for a member who joins just to get pregnancy benefits and hasn’t contributed at other times would be much higher than the premium that is charged. This one is a little more grey and while I feel the rules are entirely fair, they may not be viewed that way by a particular judge on a particular day.

Some schemes require that members give three months’ notice when terminating their membership, whereas the act deems 20 business days to be reasonable

This might reflect the desire to not have members leave a scheme immediately after having utilized the maximum benefit available to them before joining another scheme. I don’t know how much of this behavior would ever happen, so this might also ultimately be changed.

Many schemes don’t enforce the allowed waiting periods for members joining. If some of these other changes were to be made, I would expect these provisions would be more regularly used. Of course, that is another of the problems cited with medical schemes arising from the CPA.

All in all, we may see some changes, but by and large these comments reflect a lack of appreciation for the actuarial realities of managing a health scheme with community rating.

Gaining new insight into insurer profitability through New Business Margin on Revenue

The Value of New Business written by an insurers is a good measure of the value created through sales activity over a certain period. It’s not the easiest number to interpret in terms of profitability though.

New Business Margin, which is the Value of New Business (VNB) as a percentage of the Present Value of New Business Premiums (PVNBP) is a common measure of profitability of that news business.

But it’s a flawed measure, especially when it comes to comparing product lines and insurers or even to understand the change in profitability from one period to the next. It uses and unequal yardstick to measure business.

New Business Margin on Revenue (NBMR) provides a significantly improved measure of profitability that can be used to compare margins across products, across insurers and across time. Further, it leads easily to a component analysis of the margin, adding additional insights to shareholders, brokers and regulators.

If you haven’t read my introductory post on New Business Margin on Revenue, it would be worthwhile doing so now – this post is going to illustrate the sort of results it provides in a practical, numerical example.

Example 1 considers how NBMR clarifies distortions from a change in mix of business.

Example 2 shows how more complex dynamics can be understood through a component analysis of NBMR. The spreadsheet showing the underlying calcs is attached at the end of this post. Continue reading “Gaining new insight into insurer profitability through New Business Margin on Revenue”

New thoughts on renewal rates for Embedded Values

Embedded Values (EVs) are widely used to measure value for life insurers. In the context of long-term contracts such as individual life, it reflects the value embedded in prudent regulatory provisions (or “actuarial reserves”).

For short-term business (group risk, health insurance, health administration, general insurance etc.) it is something different since these lines don’t have long-term prudent provisions. In these cases it reflects the present value of future profits expected to be earned out of the existing business.

The inclusion of these short term types of business within EV is widespread. It seemingly increases consistency between different types of contracts since we are considering the long-term expected profitability in all cases. More on this apparent consistency in a moment.

What do we include in the EV and VIF?

EV is not a complete economic measure of the value of an insurer, since it ignores future profits arising from future new business. This is by design. An Appraisal Value incorporates the Value of Future New Business (VFNB) as well, although there is always subjectivity over how many years of future new business should be included. (More on this in a separate post.)

Existing Business vs Future Business

The idea of “existing business” and “future new business” is clear in the individual life context. It’s existing business if you have a contract, and future new business if not. Premium increases and slight benefit modifications can usually be accommodated within the existing contract and so should ideally be included in the Value of In Force (VIF) based on the expected probabilities of these changes. Continue reading “New thoughts on renewal rates for Embedded Values”

Who do you trust more than your bank?

Turns out Australian banks are concerned that their customers have greater confidence and trust in Google and PayPal than in their own institutions.

It wasn’t that long ago that financial institutions needed marble-clad offices and multi-decade histories to show that they were serious and were financially stable and could be trusted. Now the organisations that generate trust are barely a decade old and interact with customers in a purely virtual form.

“If Google got up and said we are going to offer a savings account, for me, that would be very difficult and confronting,”

I already use and love Google Checkout, which allows me to purchase items quickly from a variety of sites without having to enter (or share!) my credit card information with the new merchant. I honestly wish all merchants supported it.

PayPal has had a difficult history in South Africa, given that only very recently have we been able to withdraw funds from PayPal (and only via FNB even now). Still, I trust them more than most merchants.

One reason I might be concerned about Google as a bank is that since it would be so internationally successful, it would be an insanely attractive target for hackers. The number of attack vectors that would be pointed its way would be particularly concerning. (Yes, I’m writing this from a virtually virus-immune Mac for similar reasons.)

All companies must focus on trust and genuine relationships with clients, but no more so than financial services companies.

Lower interconnect not the promised panacea

Decreasing interconnect fees was supposed to lower telecoms costs, promote competition and create world peace.

It’s done none of these because the logic underlying it was flawed. Analysts focused on interconnect as an expense, happily ignoring the revenue side (since it was a fee paid to another company within the industry). Never has a telecoms issue been so badly hijacked by lack of understanding.

Now, in a press release that is a little vague, BMI TechKnowledge reflect concerns that telecoms growth rates may be lower as a result of falling mobile termination rates.

Too Small To Succeed

According to a Fin24 story this morning, the FSB is probing smaller unit trusts.

The economics of a fund manager depends entirely on growing funds under management so that revenues (based on assets under management) grow to be larger than costs (significantly fixed and at most semi-variable). Details of performance fees and the second order impact of investment performance aside, a successful fund manager must attract positive net client cashflow, and lots of it.

Half the 960 available unit trusts have less than R100m in AUM. Some of these may be rapidly growing new funds, but many have been stagnant with slow growth for several years.

The FSB’s attention presents opportunities for consolidation between funds and should place larger funds in a stronger position competitively. Total Expense Ratios (TER) for these funds with significant scale should already be lower than smaller funds. Maybe it’s time the larger funds made more if their size and cost efficiencies. If they are going to take the heat for being too large to be nimble, they might as well reap the benefits too.

It will be interesting to see what this means for white labelled funds and whether the economics of these convince the regulator that they should survive.

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