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”

Credit Life regulations and reactions (1)

Credit Life regulations have been live for long enough now that insurers are starting to feel the impact and the shake-up of amongst industry players is starting to emerge.

There have been plenty of debate around the regulations, in part because of the dramatic financial and operational impact they will have, and partly because of how imperfectly worded they are and the scope for interpretation.

I’ll be posting about this more in the coming days.

Basing the premium on initial or outstanding balance

First, a real anomaly is the ability for insurers  to charge the capped premium rate either on initial loan balance or on the declining outstanding balance.

There are good practical reasons to want to charge a single, known amount to policyholders. It is easier to administer and policyholders have greater clarity on what they are paying. Continue reading “Credit Life regulations and reactions (1)”

Current and future state of bancassurance in SA

Bancassurance, says the oracle or finance definitions online (aka Investopedia) is :

…is an arrangement in which a bank and an insurance company form a partnership so that the insurance company can sell its products to the bank’s client base. This partnership arrangement can be profitable for both companies. Banks can earn additional revenue by selling the insurance products, while insurance companies are able to expand their customer bases without having to expand their sales forces or pay commissions to insurance agents or brokers.

Bancassurance has been a major part of European and Asian insurance markets and, for a time, was presumed to be the future of insurance distribution in most countries around the world.

What happened was different. Bancassurance has not taken off in all markets the same as it did in the early success stories. Some of this has to do with the reversal of trust relationships between banking and insurance. Continue reading “Current and future state of bancassurance in SA”

South Africa ranks 2nd in financial inclusion study

The Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project measures South Africa one place behind Kenya in terms of financial inclusion.

I’m still working my way through the full report, but Kenya’s score is a significant jump above South Africa and the closely contested positions below it. Is Kenya genuinely making such inroads or is this a function of the measures used?

Progress on tax free savings vehicles, but scathing words for life insurers

Read the latest (14 March 2014) document from National Treasury on tax free savings vehicles for South Africa. I think it’s a fantastic idea – both from a policy perspective with carefully designed incentives to promote long-term savings and from a personal perspective. I’m definitely going to use one for my own savings. However, one paragraph stuck out as a pretty clear message from National Treasury on their views of life insurers – and views on current product offerings rather than any historical sins:

Insurance products

Products must permit flexible contributions and may not bind individuals into any future contribution schedules. Many insurance investment policies would currently not match these criteria. Government is not open to providing a tax incentive for products that have high charges and may have an adverse impact on household welfare at the point at which the household is increasingly vulnerable. In this regard some savings products, for example endowment policies and any similar investments that include excessively high penalties in the case of early termination of the policy, pose a policy challenge from a market conduct perspective and will not be allowed in these accounts.
As discussed, National Treasury will engage with the FSB and industry in determining a reasonable approach to charges and early termination.

 

Wow. I know there are many bad insurance products around and probably some still being sold. I also know of many insurance executives who strive for value for money and are reinventing products and distribution channels to this end.
Seems to me NT isn’t yet on board.

e-reader (reader) demographics changing

Bain performed research on current and likely future demographics of e-reader users.

The current situation:

early adopters of digital reading devices and multipurpose tablets mostly are already heavy readers. In numbers, they are more often men than women. They also describe themselves as more affluent than average and tend to be in their 20s and early 30s. This group values the flexibility of reading in different settings and the new devices’ ease of use

Their view of the future:

Readers who told us they are considering purchasing digital devices in the near future are mostly women and are older than 35 years of age.

and

Books won’t go away any time soon. Several indicators from the study show why. First, respondents who have adopted digital formats say they continue to read printed books. This attachment to paper formats also holds for younger generations, even though they were born in the digital era.

Some of this makes sense to me. Obviously my own direct experiences are of South Africa rather than the developed markets surveyed by Bain. I see more and more Kindles on JHB-CPT flights, exactly the demographic that can afford and most values the portability of the Kindle.

It’s fairly obvious that heavy readers will be more likely to purchase an e-reader since they would be more likely to purchase books, read books and ultimately see the value in an e-reader, so no surprises there. The youngish demographic also makes sense as early adopters are typically younger and less wedded to lifetime patterns. Affordability and competing devices (PSPs, iPads, iTouches etc.) with more game options and broader entertainment possibility limit teenage adoption of the devices.

And in South Africa?

My limited, ultra-informal sample from flights in South Africa showed a split between men and women not much different from typical air-travellers, but a demographic closer to 40 than 20 to 30. Continue reading “e-reader (reader) demographics changing”

Not growing up

The New York Times has a fascinating article about “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?“. It deals with the broader issue of how and when young adults move through phases of adulthood and how this has changed over the last 40 years.

It’s based on US research, so the parallel to South Africa isn’t perfect. On the other hand, it may prove predictive for our population.

A few snippets (it’s a long article, but well worth reading the whole thing):

  1. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men
  2. Definitions of adulthood vary widely – people can vote at 18, but in some states they don’t age out of foster care until 21. They can join the military at 18, but they can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16, but they can’t rent a car until 25 without some hefty surcharges. If they are full-time students, the Internal Revenue Service considers them dependents until 24; those without health insurance will soon be able to stay on their parents’ plans even if they’re not in school until age 26, or up to 30 in some states.
  3. Definitions of adulthood are clearly not just a function of age. (and so our marketing to them should consider more subtle measures than simply age ~ David Kirk) Continue reading “Not growing up”