Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Stuart Parker
The past 12 months have proved to be groundbreaking for the market-leading insurance service provider, MicroEnsure; as its mission to create, distribute and operate services that help uninsured people in emerging markets was realised via significant launches, and concerted international expansion.
Embracing both of these elements, its new product, Suraksha, in conjunction with Telenor India was a first of its kind in the telecom industry; becoming available to all of the latter’s 48 million-plus customers as well as potential new users.
“The scheme itself has the opportunity to empower society through financial inclusion by offering millions upon millions of people access to vital life insurance cover, completely free, when they top up their mobile phones,” explains MicroEnsure’s Marketing Director, Peter Gross. “This project has been a major success for MicroEnsure over the past 12 months, with more than 20 million opt-in subscribers in the first 164 days alone; which may make it the fastest-growing private insurance product in history.”
Similar success has been seen domestically via its African headquarters in Kenya, through the launch of a new pilot in partnership with Grameen Foundation and Sanlam Kenya called ‘Fearless Health’. As a direct-to-consumer hybrid health financing product that extends credit to patients for immediate outpatient costs, customers pay for their package via mobile money, and subsequently benefit from complimentary services including inpatient insurance, mHealth services and social benefits; all presented through a mobile package.
“Fearless Health offers customers a convenient way for them to pay for healthcare today, while protecting their health tomorrow,” Gross says. “With Fearless Health, customers no longer need to pay for their full medical bill in cash on the day; they can pay a small amount today and then pay the rest in small instalments each week for the next four weeks.
“Our innovative use of credit, insurance, telemedicine, and gaming is another industry first.”
While Fearless Health will inevitably form a vital part of MicroEnsure’s African evolution in the months and years to come, it is arguably the Company’s overseas exposure that can be attributed as its main area of development.
As well as the aforementioned India, Bangladesh has witnessed two new product launches in 2016; both making a real difference to emerging customers in the country.
“‘Tonic’, a digital health service launched in association with Telenor Health and Grameenphone, is a product that was developed with the intention to increase access to healthcare and provide aspirational education and support for Bangladeshis to proactively combat illness through diet and lifestyle,” Gross details. “Tonic members receive four benefits: ‘Tonic Jibon’ offers tips and information via SMS, web, and Facebook to help members live a healthy life by eating well, staying active, and keeping mentally refreshed on a daily basis; ‘Tonic Daktar’ provides members access to knowledgeable and friendly advice from a doctor with just a phone call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; ‘Tonic Discounts’ helps to make hospital care more accessible by extending discounts of up to 40 percent on different fees at more than 50 popular hospitals across Bangladesh; and the ‘Tonic Cash’ service offers members BDT 500 in cash to assist in covering costs if they are hospitalised for three nights or more.”
“The second product launched in Bangladesh in 2016 was ‘Protection Plus’ which is a specialist insurance product designed for bank customers and is a culmination of a partnership between IT Consultants Limited (ITCL), Pragati Life Insurance and MicroEnsure; offering a first of its kind product to bank customers.”
Comprising both transaction-linked life insurance for debit card holders, and credit shield insurance for credit card holders, “the [latter] product is designed to help the families of the bank’s clients in dire circumstances of death or disability and will help to mitigate the distress caused by banks on mourning families after the death of credit card holders who leave behind outstanding debts”, Gross notes.
The former addresses the competition rife in Bangladesh at present, working with Jamuna Bank via its Protection Plus product.
Gross continues: “Any account holder of Jamuna Bank can easily obtain this insurance facility, with the only criteria being that they hold a Jamuna Bank debit card. Customers will be entitled to life insurance coverage, based on the total value of transactions carried out with their debit cards through POS machines in the previous month. Customers will be auto-enrolled into the plan by the bank, and once a claim is raised, followed by the submission of simple documents by customers, the verification and claim payment process is quick and straightforward.
“The name Protection Plus was chosen to signify the security that will be provided to customers but that also stands for the innovative use of advanced technology which together deliver a fresh look at banking for the people of Bangladesh.
“This is just the beginning for MicroEnsure and we have plans already in place to work with many of the other banks that ITCL operates with and to introduce innovative services to the market in Bangladesh.”
Kenya and beyond
Setting out to establish itself in strategic growth markets such as India and Bangladesh, the development of new innovations to help end customers has been a successful model adopted by the business ever since its inception in 2008, and is being justified through the uptake in each new country of operation.
“We opened in India and added 25 million new registered customers, more than doubling our outreach over the year before,” Gross emphasises. “The developments in India and Bangladesh have been pivotal in driving our success in 2016 and they are definitely helping to structure our thinking and planning moving into 2017.”
In Africa, much of MicroEnsure’s efforts have gone into its Fearless Health pilot, developing significant new capabilities that the Company believes will lead to stronger and more sustainable long-term results.
Gross adds: “We’ve become a digital lender, have developed a B2C distribution channel, and have pioneered a low-cost on-demand product that doesn’t require monthly premiums but does provide low-income customers with access to high quality healthcare whenever they need it. In this way we’re taking the best part of insurance (access to healthcare) and eliminating the worst part (endless monthly premiums which are very difficult for mass-market consumers to pay each month).
“If our pilot is successful, we will scale up this product in Kenya and beyond in 2017.”
Social impact and growth
On an internal note, MicroEnsure is busy ensuring that everything is in place to facilitate such comprehensive external progression, primarily investing in a thorough review of its technological assets to ensure the Company is prepared for its next phase of growth.
“While we’ve been proud of our achievements thus far, one of the secrets of our success is that we’re never satisfied and are always looking for more effective solutions to the challenges faced by our customers,” Gross states.
Instilled not just in line with internal ambition and missions in mind, such investments are also carried out with the most pressing and current industry trends in mind; an ethos that has recently addressed issues of smartphone penetration, digital lending, telecom consolidation, the gig economy, the disruption of legacy business models, mobile money, blockchain and smart contracts, and low-cost healthcare to name a few.
“In a space as fast-moving as ours, we aren’t yet sure which of these trends will come to dominate the conversation over the next several years, but we want to be sure we maintain a keen awareness of where our industry is heading so we can position ourselves and our customers in as strong a position as possible,” Gross says.
Naturally, this incorporates similar investments into the Company’s HR setup, improving the levels of training and satisfaction among employees - “the backbone” of MicroEnsure, as Gross describes them - culminating in a structure which is set to capitalise even further on the strong foundations laid across emerging markets in recent years.
Gross concludes: “Looking forward, I’d expect to report back that we have built a clear path to serve our customers directly, rather than relying solely on our partnerships. We have a number of wonderful telecom and banking partners, but alongside those partnerships we expect to deliver more value to our customers by creating pathways to reach them directly.
“If we can develop a successful B2C business, we are certain that our learnings over the years will deliver even more social impact and growth. That is a key goal for the Company in 2017.”