Slides from micro insurance sessional meeting in 2018

I had several requests for these slides. At some point they should also be available on ASSA’s website, but that process seems to take a curiously long time.

Here are the Micro insurance sessional 2018 slides for anyone interested, provided of course without warranty or guarantee at all and with the understanding that the views expressed are not me employer and are not even all mine as this was partly the output of committee debates.

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”

Bitcoins, deflation and the slightly silly impact of loss

I think Bitcoins and the Blockchain are amazingly cool.  I still don’t think Bitcoins are a useful currency and I worry that many of Bitcoin’s biggests fans also like the gold standard, Austrian economics and some other crazy stuff.

What impact will the loss of Bitcoins over time have on the economy? Continue reading “Bitcoins, deflation and the slightly silly impact of loss”

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.


The importance (or not?) of actuarial exams

Erik Wenzel posed a provocative question on his LinkedIn stream.

I began my reply there, but the character limit foiled me.

Erik asks:

“Thought experiment– what if there were no more actuarial exams?”

He gives a starting set of pros and cons, many of which are interesting. That, and the comments on his post, left me a little confused as to what was actually being proposed.

Here are my thoughts.

Actuarial exams are predictive of later success

Although there are obviously exceptions, I’ve found performance in actuarial exams to be a strong predictor of the quality of work and later career success. No system is perfect, but discarding a system that works because it has some false negatives requires more evidence on the extent of false negatives vs true positives.

I recall one of the reasons employers hire PhDs is because it proves a level of commitment and determination and focus and work ethic and (also) smarts. So too with a tough set of actuarial exams.

The exams don’t test every relevant capability that we might want from an actuary – there are a range of other requirements to become an actuary which address at least some of these.

The proposal was for removing exams, but…

Removing the exams because “some students aren’t good at taking tests” is a very different point from removing the underlying course material or the need to study and understand them.  The actual time taken for the exam is negligible.

If the idea is to not bother understanding the material at an in-depth level, then I have additional concerns. But that wasn’t what was actually proposed.

The solution to “some people being bad at taking tests” is not to scrap all the study material. The solution to the problem of “the study material isn’t keeping up with demands” isn’t to scrap exams.

The material underlying the exams should not be dismissed just because it isn’t all about machine learning and CRISPR. A critical challenge in not being forced to have depth of knowledge on areas, even if the details become hazy over time, is the understanding of the boundaries of one’s knowledge and the extent to which the problems encountered already have possible solutions. There is a world of difference in understanding material at a level to pass an exam and what can be gleaned from reading an article or skimming a book.

Removal of exams doesn’t automatically create an appropriate alternative

How would an actuary know when to ask for help? Are we really sure the extent of mentoring in the actuarial profession is good enough for everyone? Better informed actuaries will better be able to critically evaluate the guidance they receive.

Should the exams actually be harder?

Incidentally, I’m generally more concerned about false positives.  I’d be happy to see regularly updated exam materials that are broader and more complex and, yes, harder than current materials.

Improving actuarial education

Actuarial education has not been stagnant. Should we strive for faster change and better improvements? Should we focus more on the use of technology enablement and add additional short courses on cutting edge topics? Should the profession better understand what is predictive of later success, self-reported or otherwise?


Move over cholera, here’s the Black Death

The Black Death, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, wiped out 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351

Now, South Africa has been placed on high alert for a potential plague infection.

Mortality rates are estimated anywhere between 30% and 100% without treatment. Many estimates are towards the top end of this range, 80% to 95%. Treatments are available (mostly antibiotics) and are generally effective. Mortality rate where adequate treatment is administered within 24 hours can be 11%.  (Either “just 11%” or “11%!” depending on whether you’re counting up from 0% or down from 95%.)

Spread of Black Death across Europe in 14th century
Spread of Black Death across Europe in 14th century

Plague in Madagascar

124 people have already been killed by the plague in Madagascar. But this is just a particularly bad year. Continue reading “Move over cholera, here’s the Black Death”