Member profile: Cenfri

Friday, January 25, 2019

For the last decade, Cenfri has been exploring the role of the financial sector, and specifically insurance, as a tool for sustainable development. We talked to Doubell Chamberlain, Cenfri’s Managing Director and Chair of the MiN Board, about his vision for an inclusive, multi-stakeholder insurance industry that supports poverty relief and economic development.

MiN: Looking back over the past decade, what do you think are the MiN’s biggest achievements?

Doubell: There are at least three big achievements that I think reflect the evolving value of the MiN over the last decade:

  • The transformation from a donor-driven working group to a sustainable member-driven network. This has been in large part thanks to my predecessors Craig and Michael and Katharine’s new leadership.
  • The groundwork that has been done for the establishment of the Access to Insurance Initiative (A2ii) through the Regulation, Supervision and Policy (RSP) Working Group - conceived and driven by members - and supporting that platform to shape regulatory approaches and standards for inclusive insurance.
  • The creation of the ecosystem that provided fertile ground for the conception of ground-breaking ventures such as MicroEnsure and many other businesses still to be conceived of and partnered by members.
  • Having driven the understanding and delivery of performance and value through the key performance indicators (Okay, so that’s four. I couldn’t resist, though, as there are so many I could mention.).

MiN: What are the key lessons from your time with the MiN?

Doubell: First, it really does take multiple stakeholders to solve the big problems. The challenges are too big for the mandate and resources of any one organisation, and they often involve different parts of the industry to come together. The MiN provides a platform to bring these stakeholders together and pool their resources to address these problems. We observed it when addressing insurance regulation in emerging markets, and most recently in the role of insurance in sustainable development.

Second, the type of change the MiN wants to effect takes time, and we need to be patient. Using insurance to deliver development impact has proven to be a long-term process. For instance, the regulatory changes required to create space for insurance to support development can take more than a decade. Further, it takes time for business models to evolve and demonstrate value for consumers to take up new offerings and viability for providers to be replicated in other markets. The patience of MiN members like the FinMark Trust, the A2ii, the ILO and the Munich Re Foundation - just to note some that I’m more familiar with - has shown that this is possible; but it is not easy, and not everyone has the appetite for such long-term change.

MiN: How has the MiN evolved?

Doubell: As I mentioned earlier, one of the major achievements of the MiN has been in its evolution from a donor-driven working group to a member-driven network. This has enabled us to provide more value to the industry but has also forced us to address some difficult questions.

When we first set out, we were operating in a well-defined space, supported by donors – microinsurance. Microinsurance was seen as a viable tool to address poverty. However, over the years it struggled to live up to its initial expectations. Providers have questioned its viability, and the development community has asked difficult questions about microinsurance as a tool for development.

This has forced us to evolve as a network. We have started taking incremental steps towards inclusive insurance and the role of insurance in development. In turn, this has compelled us to take a more realistic view on where insurance fits in as a development tool, but also to push the relevance of insurance for real-world impact as articulated by the SDGs. Going forward, the MiN needs to continue evolving with the mandates and interests of its members.

MiN: Where do you stand on the microinsurance vs inclusive insurance debate?

Doubell: As a member-based organisation, the question of microinsurance versus inclusive insurance should firstly be anchored in the mandates of our members. Many of our members have evolved their focus to inclusive insurance as they are grappling with how best to leverage insurance as a development tool. Secondly, it needs to be informed by the type of stakeholders and actions we want to affect. If we want to influence regulators, the private sector and donors to expand insurance for low-income consumers, we need to frame our engagement in a manner that is relevant to them.

I also consider this to be a false trade-off. In an environment of scarce resources and capacity, the market will not jump from serving the richest 1% to serving the poorest 1%, but it will look to serve the next most profitable market. By taking too narrow a view on microinsurance in such a market, we defy this reality and cannot get the market to move closer to serving the poorest households.

There are many households in emerging markets who are poor and vulnerable but who do not fall below the poverty line. I think insurance is a viable and valuable tool for these households, and they should be part of the MiN’s focus.

MiN: Why did Cenfri join the MiN?

Doubell: Back in 2008, we were microinsurance theme managers for the FinMark Trust and started showing up at MiN events and gatherings. It became clear that the MiN was – and still is – the best place to connect with relevant stakeholders and the latest thinking on the role of insurance as a viable tool for development.

We also saw what could be achieved through the MiN – the establishment of the A2ii and the creation of the KPIs, to name a few. It was a powerful combination of people daring to ask the difficult but right questions and willing to do the heavy lifting to shape global standards in insurance.

MiN: What is Cenfri’s role in promoting and supporting inclusive insurance in its regions of operation?

Doubell: First, I think it’s important to clarify that we see ourselves as explorers looking for solutions to development problems rather than lobbyists for the role of any particular industry. Over the last decade we endeavoured to understand and unlock the role of the financial sector (including insurance) in development. In doing so, we needed to recognise the benefits and face up to the challenges of insurance as a development tool.

In some of our early explorations in insurance, we heard many peoples’ grumblings about regulation, but few asking how to change it. This set us off to explore with forward-thinking partners like DFID, GIZ, the ILO, UNCDF and the A2ii (more recently) to understand how regulation could be changed to allow insurance to more effectively contribute to the outcomes we wanted to see. Much of this work was institutionalised within the MiN’s RSP Working Group and later the A2ii. Since then we have continued to work with these partners to see how this regulation is shaping insurance markets and what further regulatory changes are required.

Alongside this, we spent much time on understanding the potential of innovation and technology to overcome some market development problems. Building our perspective of technology and innovation across emerging markets has enabled us to catalyse and support innovation as well as shape the regulatory spaces to enable this. 

At the core of much of the above, we have spent a considerable amount of time building our understanding of consumer needs and behaviours to shape and inform both innovation and regulation. In an era of technology and increasing data, there are many new opportunities and risks that arise, and we are interested in how this can be leveraged to enhance the development impact of insurance.

We see this type of ongoing exploratory role as critical to promote and support the type of inclusive insurance markets we want to see globally and in the regions.

MiN: What is the main challenge and opportunity for the sector in your region?

Doubell: Technology and data. There is great potential with technology and data, but my concern is that we may have an exaggerated expectation that will lead to disappointment when it is not a panacea for all our problems. This is particularly challenging when we do not yet have the industry or regulatory capacity to effectively wield these powerful tools. Alongside exploring these innovations, we need to continue the slower process of identifying and solving longer-term market development challenges. This will also help us to identify the most important challenges where technology and data may assist, rather than starting with technology and data solutions and trying to find problems to solve.

MiN: As Board Chair, what is your message to members in 2019?

Doubell: Thank you for your commitment to solving these long-term and difficult challenges! We have now laid the foundation for a strong Executive Team that will enable us as members to work together in addressing the issues raised above. During these periods of global and industry change, the power and value of a multi-stakeholder network really comes to the fore. I look forward to engaging with you in shaping the next decade of impact.