Member profile: Women's World Banking

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Women’s World Banking is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We asked Director of Microinsurance, Gilles Renouil, to talk us through some of the highlights.

MiN: Turning 40 is exciting. Take us through some of the organisation’s key milestones in this journey.

Gilles: Today, we have three lines of business in order to drive security and prosperity for low-income women. Initially our work was focused on research and advocacy, spending time with women and understanding their financial pain points. But from there we started to develop financial products. In 2008, with support from ILO we launched Caregiver, a simple life and health product, and then products for youth saving in the Dominican Republic and Mongolia. In 2013 we launched our first digital product in Nigeria in which we worked with a commercial bank to collect savings with market women. Designing commercially viable solutions is one way we drive security and prosperity for women. This is our first line of business.

As early as 2000, we held our first training sessions on access to capital for financial institutions and in 2012, we established our first private equity fund which invests in women-focused financial institutions. This is our second pillar.

Finally, our third line of business is our ‘Leadership & Diversity’ programmes, which bring senior leaders of financial institutions together with high-potential women in their organisations. These programmes are for both the private sector as well as regulatory bodies.  

We now operate in 32 countries with 52 partners, and we aim to impact 100 million women by 2022.

MiN: Who are your main clients?

Gilles: We work with a wide range of clients including retail banks, mobile network operators, insurance companies, FinTechs, and policymakers. But what they all have in common is a focus on low-income women. They tend to have less financial education and access to digital devices. For example, women are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone in sub-Saharan Africa, and 26% less likely in Southeast Asia. If you develop financial solutions delivered via digital devices you have to make sure women can access them. When they do, they really use it. Women are so busy managing their households and jobs, they don’t have time to go to a bank or MFI to buy insurance. If you provide digital solutions, they can use them anywhere. Now many men are buying products designed for women!

MiN: What is Women’s World Banking’s business model?

Gilles: We are funded by corporate foundations, governments and multilateral agencies. We are a network of cooperatives, microfinance institutions and banks – and increasingly mobile network operators who have identified financial services as a need to support their growth in the women segment. We work with our network to gather market intelligence and develop commercially viable women-centric products. As projects develop, we present them to donors and get funds to help develop the new product or tweak an existing one to reach more women. We also work on a ‘fee for service’ basis when a partner really wants to develop a product but there is no donor money available. We also provide customised leadership and diversity programmes to institutions around the world.

MiN: How do you promote inclusive insurance?

Gilles: Low-income women don’t talk about being uninsured. They speak about the causes of their mental stress. Health, education, income and - depending on the region - food security are their main financial pain points, but you always find health in the top three. So we developed our flagship Caregiver product - no exclusions, not even for maternity - which incentivises women to seek treatment. It’s very successful - we’ve replicated it in Morocco, Egypt, Peru, and Uganda and had feasibility studies in Mexico and Brazil.

Innovation sometimes requires a lot of determination! We’re piloting on a voluntary savings-linked product in Jordan which will close the need for a long-term saving (the second financial pain point of women). And we have just launched a family policy in Egypt with Swiss Re, Axa and Lead Foundation as partners. It took some time to design the right product, and the pilot will bring in new data to further improve it.

MiN: Women’s World Banking took part in several panel discussions at the 14th IMC last year. What were your key takeaways?

Gilles: SDG 17! Partnerships are vital for sustainable development. Partnership means looking eye-to- eye. We cannot solve global challenges working in silos. Client-centricity is also key. If you sell something clients don’t need, want, understand or use it’s completely useless - it’s going to die in the end. If you really understand the clients’ needs, priorities and pain points you can develop, test and grow with them.

MiN: What are the challenges and opportunities in the inclusive insurance market?

Gilles: I see mainly two big challenges now. There’s a fundamental disconnect between insurance and low-income consumers. Companies must develop more appropriate, accessible products - they think new distribution channels are the answer, but those channels don’t always understand how insurance works. It’s a chicken and egg story: the insurers say they can’t start because they don’t have the data, but they don’t have the data because they don’t have a product.

The second is that tech is not a panacea. If you don’t understand insurance, your mobile phone alone isn’t going to teach you! Digital can be an enabler but is also often a hurdle for a woman who doesn’t own a phone - the phone may be broken or shared, or she doesn’t have or use data. I hear a lot of people say that blockchain will solve the insurance challenge for low-income people, because it increases trust. I think we should address the trust issue directly. Low-income clients need an outstanding experience with insurance, first. Only then, will they go further and adopt digital features.

The opportunity is obvious. There are 3.5 billion people who live on 2 to 8 dollars a day, often with no safety net. They all are conscious consumers. I think that public-private partnerships are key to the answer. If we inject public funding into promising ventures that will kick-start commercially viable businesses, the financial sector will follow suit. At this moment, we are working on a hybrid social venture model with the goal to replicate our Caregiver product at scale.

MiN: What does the MiN do for you and how can how can the MiN and Women's World Banking best collaborate to develop the market?

Gilles: We became a member to learn and keep up-to-speed with trends. The value of the MiN really lies in giving our own network access to resources and learning. We see big opportunities for more research on women and insurance. How can women-centric products become profitable? How does a woman buy insurance? How does she tell her friends? How can women act as ambassadors for products in their communities? Climate change affects women more than men - what does that mean for insurance?

One of the big challenges for the MiN and its members is getting the private sector into the low-income market. Companies need to understand this is the future. We need to be a bit less academic and a bit more business-like.