14th International Microinsurance Conference: inclusive insurance for emerging markets

Thursday, November 15, 2018

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More than 400 delegates from all over the world gathered at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, for the 14th IMC held last week. The Microinsurance Network (MiN) co-hosted the event with the Munich Re Foundation and local partners Microinsurance Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Zambia. The conference kicked off with the live-streamed media launch of the 2018 State of Microinsurance (SoM) report Inclusive Insurance for Sustainable Development.

MiN Executive Director Katharine Pulvermacher told the press conference that innovative, affordable microinsurance products can and truly are working for economically vulnerable people around the world, but that millions of individuals, families and small businesses risk catastrophic losses on a daily basis because they cannot access insurance. An animation was screened, based on the key message of the SoM: inclusive insurance is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

During the opening ceremony, Permanent Secretary of the Zambian Ministry of Finance, Dr. Emmanuel Pamo, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Margaret Mwanakatwe, said that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the real economic pushers, but they are particularly vulnerable. He highlighted key factors for the success of microinsurance in Zambia, such as ensuring that microinsurance is a core part of Zambia’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy, investing in consumer education and protection, and supporting a conducive regulatory environment.

The MiN hosted the first plenary session Why does insurance matter for development? The insurance sector has a key role promoting and helping achieve the SDGs - it’s much more than corporate social responsibility (CSR), it’s about delivering responsible, effective and inclusive insurance. Rowan Douglas from the Insurance Development Forum (IDF), Mathieu Dubreuil of the World Food Programme (WFP), Shilpi Shastri from Women’s World Banking (WWB) and Peter Wrede from the World Bank all emphasised the contribution that microinsurance can make to the SDGs. But, they said, insurance alone cannot make a significant impact - it has to be implemented as part of a holistic approach including other financial products, capacity building and financial education.

No less than 16 parallel sessions were spread across the conference covering health, agriculture, customer centricity, distribution, MSME development, new market segments, credit life, making microinsurance commercially viable, alternative client data, and synergies between macro- and micro-level insurance.

Day two kicked off with a plenary on the role of digital platforms in inclusive insurance markets, facilitated by MiN Board Chair Doubell Chamberlain of Cenfri, who highlighted the emerging digital ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa. Adrien Lebegue of Zhong An, the first online Chinese insurance platform, said that after just five years Zhong An sells insurance to more than 430 million people. Network member Richard Leftley of MicroEnsure, said the success of mobile network operators (MNOs) comes from combining trust with payments, and that trusted partners are critical for driving inclusive insurance. Amolo Ng’weno from Bankable Frontier Associates in Kenya focused on emerging distribution channels such as micro-kiosks which can act as distribution points for microinsurance.

A fascinating plenary session on public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the distribution of agricultural insurance included valuable lessons learned from different projects: PPPs require strong government lead; a solid political, institutional and legal framework is essential; trust among partners is key; don’t overpromise and underdeliver; be responsive to all stakeholders; finding the right balance of interests and roles is hard but essential; good support from the field is crucial; include the needs and perspectives of the end-user; manage expectations and keep premiums affordable.

The need for cooperation and working together for progress emerged strongly on the third and final day. A plenary on InsurTech: Rising to the regulatory challenge, facilitated by Craig Thorburn of the World Bank, heard a warning that if we don’t disrupt the insurance industry ourselves, it will be disrupted by someone else. Making change part of the culture and ensuring proper coordination between the regulator and innovators is key, as is the significant role played by regulators to ensure a stable market. There are opportunities for businesses and investors, but consumers must be protected. Customers want to understand what they are buying and how it will add value to their lives.

Key findings and common threads from the conference, pulled together by consultant Maria-Victoria Saenz, included the Zambian success story - in 10 years the country has evolved from a one product industry with few insureds to a diversified industry with more than two million insured. When it comes to development, microinsurance matters a lot - it is an important tool for the achievement of some of the SDGs and there’s a clearly need for insurance to boost consumption and aid in cash flow management. Partnerships are all-important, whether public-private or private-private. Technology is both a solution and a challenge.

Doubell Chamberlain reflected on changing times. The key to increased inclusive insurance is to pursue value and scale up together, because progress will be faster if all players work together. Dirk Reinhard, Vice-Chairman of conference co-organisers Munich Re Foundation also underlined the importance of cooperation. Finally, Nishith Kumar Sarker, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Insurance Association, looked forward to next year’s conference. See you all in Bangladesh in 2019 for the 15th IMC!