A growing number of insurers are tapping into markets in developing countries through microinsurance projects, which provide low-cost insurance to individuals generally not covered by traditional insurance or government programs.
Microinsurance products tend to be much less costly than traditional products and thus extend protection to a much wider market. Products vary in type and structure but are generally distinguished by high volumes, low cost and efficient administration. Policies may be offered along with a small loan, with premiums that are a small percentage of the loan amount.
The Microinsurance Network is a nonprofit global organization of microinsurance industry experts comprised of 80 institutional members from more than 40 countries committed to promoting the development and delivery of valuable insurance services for low-income people. According to the Network’s Annual Report 2017, while emerging markets account for around one-fifth of total global premium, they represent 80 percent of the world population, pointing toward an enormous potential for growth. The Network’s World Map of Microinsurance shows that almost 290 million people worldwide are covered by at least one microinsurance policy.
Innovative technology applications play an important role in microinsurance. Mobile network operators are providing coverage to an estimated 2.9 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region, where nine times out of ten, mobile microinsurance is a person’s first experience with insurance.
Microinsurance is an outgrowth of the microfinancing projects developed by Bangladeshi Nobel Prize-winning banker and economist Muhammad Yunus, which helped millions of low-income individuals in Asia and Africa to set up businesses and buy houses.
There are various types of microinsurance programs. Some rely on parametric triggers, which enable rapid payouts based on measurable factors, or parameters. Parametric policies take into account known and observable characteristics. For example, a policy for farmers might be based on the amount of damage a certain kind of crop would be likely to sustain in a given area in specific conditions. When conditions reach the trigger point, for example, 100-mile winds in a specific location or a defined amount of rainfall, policyholders in the designated area automatically receive compensation. By not having to rely on individual claims adjusters to inspect damages and decide the amount of losses, claims can be settled quickly, thus allowing claimants fast access to funds that they might need to keep their business going.
Microinsurance is often distributed in cooperation with microfinance organizations, rural banks, savings and credit cooperatives, and humanitarian organizations providing nonfinancial services. Insured crops and livestock can be used as collateral for loans to buy better equipment or otherwise improve the farmer’s yields, ultimately raising the standard of living.
American International Group Inc. (AIG) was one of the first companies to offer microinsurance and began selling policies in Uganda in 1997. It was soon joined by other large insurers including Swiss Re, Munich Re, Allianz and Zurich Financial Services. Today many innovative microinsurance products have been developed to protect the working poor against the financial impact of losses.
The Blue Marble Microinsurance group was formed in early 2015. The group aims to provide socially impactful, commercially viable insurance protection to underserved populations.
The consortium behind Blue Marble consists of American International Group Inc., Aspen Insurance Holdings Ltd., Assa, Axa, Hamilton Insurance Group Ltd., Guy Carpenter & Co. LLC, together with Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., Old Mutual plc, Transatlantic Reinsurance Co. and Zurich Insurance Group.
Blue Marble's first venture was launched in October 2016. The program provides affordable crop insurance against drought and excess rainfall to smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. The program employs a customizable index product that can adapt to different soil types, crops, seed varieties and farming practices.
A second venture was launched in October 2018. This time, Blue Marble partnered with Nespresso to create a weather-index microinsurance solution for coffee farmers in Colombia.
With limited growth prospects in the insurance markets of developed countries, insurers see emerging economies as presenting significant potential for growth and profitability. Premium growth in developing countries has been outpacing growth in industrialized countries. Swiss Re identifies emerging markets as countries in South and East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East (excluding Israel), Central Asia, and Turkey. Swiss Re’s sigma World insurance study for 2020 on world insurance markets reported that premiums in emerging countries rose 0.8 percent in 2020, after adjusting for inflation, compared with 6.8 percent in 2019, mostly due to 3.6 percent growth in China. Growth in developing markets outpaced growth in advanced markets, where premiums fell 1.8 percent in 2020 after rising 2.1 percent in 2019. Emerging markets accounted for 18.6 percent of total global premium volume in 2020, virtually unchanged from 2019.
Life sector premiums rose 0.3 percent in emerging markets in 2020, after inflation, following a 6.5 percent decrease in 2019. In advanced markets, life premiums fell 5.7 percent in 2020 after a 0.6 percent increase in 2019. Nonlife sector premiums in emerging markets rose 1.3 percent in 2020, adjusted for inflation, compared with 7.0 percent in 2019, while nonlife premiums rose 1.5 percent last year in advanced markets after increasing 3.4 percent in 2019.
Swiss Re says that COVID-19 vaccines and unusual fiscal stimulus will help the world economy to combat the pandemic’s effects and help the insurance industry, especially life insurance, grow in 2021. Swiss Re expects premiums for life insurance to grow 5.7 percent in 2021 in emerging markets. Nonlife premiums are expected to grow 8.3 percent in 2021 in emerging markets. Total premiums in emerging markets are expected to grow 7.3 percent in 2021.
Other insurance channels: The parametric model is an alternative to traditional insurance where a specific trigger generates claims payments immediately. Triggers are designed to be objective and transparent. A payment schedule is set in advance based on the severity of an event. For example, an earthquake that reaches a certain magnitude defined by the U.S. Geological Survey, or a hurricane that meets the criteria of a certain category of storm by the National Weather Service, would serve as triggers. Other examples are crop yields and rainfall totals. Payments are made as soon as the triggers are reached, whether actual losses were sustained and without the use of loss adjustment. Parametric insurance gives customers the advantage of fast claims payouts, often via mobile phone networks. For commercial insurers, it removes some of the barriers they face when entering new and developing markets.
The Microinsurance Network looks to parametric insurance as a solution to losses by small farmers around the world who may be affected by extreme weather conditions. In the United States, Swiss Re settled a claim based on its parametric product for losses sustained from Hurricane Ida in August 2021 after about one week.
The Tiple-I Blog reports that parametric insurance appears to have received increased interest in 2020 and according to Artemis demand for these products seems to be driven by pandemic-related volatility in 2020. Aon noted a significant increase in clients seeking to supplement or replace their existing risk transfer programs to increase cash flow after a loss event. Alone, or as part of a package including indemnity coverage, parametric insurance can provide liquidity that businesses and communities need for post-catastrophe resilience. Parametric approaches are being discussed in the United States as part of insuring against future pandemics.
Allianz, Emerging Consumers
A.M. Best, The Potential of Microinsurance Blue Marble
Lloyd's of London, Insurance in developing countries Microinsurance Network
Munich Re Foundation, World Map of Microinsurance
National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Microinsurance
Swiss Re, Global Partnerships
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