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”

Island Life

There is a Mauritian insurer called Island Life. Best name ever for an insurance company.

I firmly believe in anthropogenic climate change. I am not an expert, but my reading has convinced me of the seriousness of the issues, the overwhelming evidence that it is humans at fault. Having young children makes me seriously concerned about our ability to remedy the mess we’re in for their sake.

Part of my very inwards focussed, selfish research was on the practical impact for where I live. Unfortunately for my cycling aspirations, this is current on the bottom slopes of Table Mountain.  Fortunately for my flood risk, the same.

The screen capture below is of an extreme, and hopefully not realistic, 30m rise in sea levels.  The website I used for visualising the impact of sea level rises makes no claims to accuracy, but it is interesting all the same.

Oranjezicht in Cape Town mostly stays above the water line even with 30m rise in sea level

Continue reading “Island Life”

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)”

Modelling one side of a two-sided problem

Ah models, my old friends. You’re always wrong, but sometimes helpful. Often dangerous too.

A recent article in The Actuary magazine addressed whether “de-risking in members’ best interests?”  I say “recent” even though it’s from August because I am a little behind on my The Actuary reading.

In the article, the authors demonstrate that by modelling the impact of covenant risk, optimal investment portfolios for Defined Benefit (DB) pensions actually have more risky assets than if this covenant risk is ignored.

The covenant they refer to is the obligation of the sponsor to make good deficits within the pension fund. Covenant risk then is the risk that the sponsor is unable (typically through its own insolvency) to make good on this promise.

On the surface it should seem counterintuitive that by modelling an additional risk to pensioners, the answer is to invest in riskier assets, thus increasing risk.

The explanation proffered by the authors is that the higher expected returns from riskier assets allow the fund to potentially build up surplus, thus reducing the risks of covenant failure.

I can follow that logic, particularly in the case where the dependence between DB fund insolvency and sponsor default is week. It doesn’t mean it’s a useful result. Continue reading “Modelling one side of a two-sided problem”

Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here.

Non-life claims reserves are regularly not discounted, for bad reasons and good. This part of the series looks at the related issue of inflation in claims reserving. (You’ll have to wait for part 3 for me to talk about the analysis that prompted this lengthy series.)

In many markets, inflation is low and stable. Until a decade ago, talk of inflation wouldn’t have raised much in the way of deflation either. That’s still sufficiently unusual to put to one side.

Low, stable inflation means that past claims development patterns are mostly about, in approximate descending order of importance (naturally depending on class and peril) Continue reading “Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)”

Life in our time of cholera?

I love to read, so I’m not proud to admit right upfront that everything I know about “Love in the time of cholera” I learnt in 3 minutes from wikipedia starting about 3 minutes ago. Seems like a book I should read.

But another than playing on the well known book and movie title, this post has nothing to do with the book.

It has everything to do with cholera. And the very real possibility of a cholera or similar disease outbreak in Cape Town in the next year. Here is a little superficial analysis of the numbers.

The City of Cape Town now expects us to run out of municipal water

The City of Cape Town has gone from claiming unequivocally:

“we want to give the people of Cape Town an assurance that this well-run city will not run out of water.”

on the 17th of August 107 to 4 October 2017’s:

If consumption is not reduced to the required levels of 500-million litres of collective usage per day, we are looking at about March 2018 when supply of municipal water would not be available.

How are dam levels and consumption point away from achieving these targets

CT has been stuck persistently above 600Ml (million litres) per day for an extended period and this is down from a peak of 1,200Ml per day in January 2015. The low hanging fruit are long gone. I do not see how we will decrease consumption by another 20% (since we’re over 600Ml at the moment) and this therefore suggests we will run out of water.

Consumption has reduced significantly, but shows no signs of decreasing below 600Ml per day

Continue reading “Life in our time of cholera?”