Barents Re joined the MiN earlier this year and describes itself as ‘the world’s niche reinsurer’. Established in 1996, the company now boasts more than 600 reinsurance connections in 70 countries. Head of Latin America Life Practice Erik Jarrin Peters spoke to us about InsurTech, Covid-19 and sustainable development.
MiN: How would you introduce Barents Re to your fellow MiN members?
Erik: We started underwriting surety bonds for Latin America out of Panama, and since then we’ve opened offices in Miami, Milan and Beirut, with operations in Madrid, London, Moscow and Luxembourg. Barents Re is an AM Best “A” rated company with a focus on surety bonds, oil and gas, and life. We also underwrite property, financial lines and ocean cargo.
MiN: Where does microinsurance fit in?
Erik: The Life team, which I head up for Latin America, is where we develop and support micro and inclusive insurance programmes as part of our corporate commitment to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Micro and inclusive insurance is particularly interesting for us, not only to create value for the company but also to do some social good for emerging consumers in those countries where we are active. Since we started the Life division we have protected more than two million people through micro and inclusive insurance programmes.
We focus particularly on developing InsurTech projects to offer products with added-value services for low-income populations and those excluded from traditional insurance markets such as groups with disabilities or special health conditions. InsurTech can bring insurance to emerging consumers while helping the risk takers create value for their companies. It’s also important to recognise that each market is different.
MiN: How has Covid-19 affected you and your customers?
Erik: Early in 2020, insurance companies started asking us for Covid-related cover for life and health retail insurance products. There was very little data available but we had to react and adapt to market demand with innovative and creative solutions - for example, including Covid-19 in life cover and reducing waiting periods for hospital cash products.
In January, just before the pandemic took hold in Latin America, as part of a multi-disciplinary team, we launched an InsurTech pilot programme called Tunajali in Paraguay. Initially, it offered a cancer indemnity product and a hospital cash cover that could be purchased as a standalone product or as a combo via a one-stop, single online transaction, with some added-value services like nutritional and psychological guidance, telemedicine consultations, among others, and was promoted through television ads. Within a couple of weeks, Covid-19 was all over the news, so we switched the marketing focus to promote hospital cash - the front page of the website makes it clear that Covid-19 is covered. It required a major effort from the whole team - we transformed the website so customers could buy hospital cash cover in a few simple clicks. Of course, that’s the way micro and inclusive insurance products should be designed – simple and easy to understand.
MiN: How did you find the recent digital edition of the International Conference on Inclusive Insurance (ICII)?
Erik: I attended in Peru (2017) and Bangladesh (2019), and of course the Digital edition a couple weeks ago. Meeting old friends and getting to know new people and seeing the growing interest in inclusive insurance is important – learning about new and available innovative products and solutions, as well as sharing information and sources for data and statistics all add value to the conference. It’s interesting to see how different participants and stakeholders in the inclusive insurance ecosystem are working together to support the SDGs and close the insurance gap. I am looking forward to (hopefully) meeting everyone again in person in Jamaica next year!
MiN: What are the main challenges and opportunities for microinsurance in the regions where you operate?
Erik: Microinsurance is like an empty ocean, you can do anything there. As a reinsurer we are generally removed from field operations and customers, which is why we get involved in projects like Tunajali - that way we can support the development of innovative insurance solutions for individuals or SMEs. Microinsurance faces many challenges, from regulatory frameworks to digital infrastructure. Patience and resources are needed to navigate these waters, but since we started the Life division journey at Barents, we’ve noticed the difference between what traditional insurers offer and what emerging consumers want. We need to reach as many as we can, as efficiently as we can, with one-click solutions which offer immediate satisfaction, regardless of where they are.
MiN: Is there still a gender gap in insurance?
Erik: No doubt about it, although fortunately the industry is increasingly recognising the need for gender-focused solutions. Women are becoming more independent, better educated, have their own economic resources and take their own decisions - it is important we design insurance products with women at the centre.
MiN: In your own words, what does MiN membership mean and what is there still to be done by the Network in the coming years?
Erik: Members share common goals and interests but bring their own perspective from their positions on the inclusive insurance value chain. There is value in sharing experience and working together on different projects, creating partnerships and generating value together for clients.
We need to increase the membership base - the MiN is still a relatively young organisation in a market which is still developing, with many areas to cover and a huge insurance gap. Communicating the social benefits of microinsurance to governments and civil society through webinars, training programmes and other regional activities will lead to greater global impact, building on regional achievements and success in individual markets.