PART II: Improving Rural Women’s Access to Insurance through Technology and Design Thinking

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PART II: Improving Rural Women’s Access to Insurance through Technology and Design Thinking

In the previous part, we brought to your attention rural women’s needs to access to insurance, and related research to better understand the importance of gender-responsive insurance products to mitigate women’s financial and health risks. In this Part II, we’ll provide detailed information on emerging trends on this topic.


Digital financial services

A 2019 study by CTA and Dalberg Advisors found nearly 400 different digital agriculture solutions working across the continent reaching 33 million registered farmers, demonstrating the market potential. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transition where digital platforms and financial products are increasingly employed to effectively reach and serve the clients. Financial services delivered via mobile phone show a promise in bridging the last mile gap, bringing financial tools directly to women where they live and work.

Overall, good progress has been made with financial inclusion in Africa. The WBG’s Findex Database shows that between 2011 and 2017, the share of adults with financial accounts in the region grew from 23% to 43%, driven largely by growth in mobile money. The report also shows many of these countries also experienced a sharp uptick in financial inclusion rates among women. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of women with their own account doubled in Kenya and Ghana and increased seven-fold in Senegal. According to GSMA’s Gender Gap Report 2020, women in low- and middle-income countries are, on average, 10% less likely to own a mobile phone – the technology enabler -  than men, which translates into 165 million fewer women owning mobile phones. Furthermore, women in those countries are 20% less likely than men to use the internet on a mobile phone, which means gender-based digital divide of 300 million people. While we see noticeable success in mobile finance in some African countries (i.e., M-Pesa in Kenya), across the continent, 400 million people, approximately 60% of them women, still don’t have access to digital financial services.

Collaborating on ways to serve underserved women’s segment, insurer-MNO (mobile network operator) partnerships have been created to mutually improve their value proposition. For insurers, benefits of mobile insurance arise from effective product design, improved distribution, reduced transaction costs, greater back-office efficiency, and the ability to offer affordable premiums. Participating MNOs see the insurance service as a way to secure customer loyalty in markets where people frequently change their service providers. In this way, they form a win-win strategy to reach and retain customers. ACRE Africa partnering with M-Pesa has automated weather risk modeling, SMS and USSD channel communication and disbursement of claims in the insurance process, enabling access to affordable insurance for over 1million smallholder farmers in Kenya. In Mali, Orange Money fostered first-time access to insurance for women through Tin Nogaya – a life/disability and maternal health insurance product intertwingled with savings product on its platform. MicroEnsure, in partnership with telecom operators, sells pro-poor life and health insurance products bundled with mobile phone airtime in Africa and Asia. When registered customers top up their airtime credit, they receive basic life insurance coverage for free. Customers can choose the level of additional coverage depends on how much airtime they buy. In Asia Pacific, BIMA in partnership with PFIP started to offer mobile-delivered insurance in Papua New Guinea targeting rural women in 2015. 800,000 policies were sold, and the project hired and trained 120 insurance agents, 45% of whom are women.

 Noticeably platforms in smallholder agricultural markets lag behind in other sectors but over the past several decades, platform businesses serving the agriculture sector are on the rise, facilitating business-to-customer (B2B), business-to-customer (B2C) or even customer-to-customer (C2C) transactions. According to a recent study done by ISF Advisor (2021) on agricultural platforms, platforms have a high potential to disrupt agricultural markets and unlock access to key products and services for millions of underserved smallholder farmers by aggregating disconnected market participants in a single outlet, reducing or eliminating expensive middlemen much like farmer cooperatives but on a grander scale. DigiFarm— an integrated product and service marketplace with more than 1.4 million registered users in Kenya—found out that, when service delivery is adapted to fit their needs, women are as or even more likely than men to register for, and actively use. Starting in 2019, the firm partnered with a women’s cooperative, whose agents supported women farmers in signing up for and engaging with the Platform, to close the gender gap.  For GIIF’s first agriculture insurtech challenge in 2019, quite a few winners are essentially operating on or maintaining platform businesses to serve the farmers including Aquaconnect, IFA, GramCover, Stellapp and MoooFarm. It shows a growing trend of embedding insurance as of part of the ecosystem of Platform to meet diverse needs of smallholder farmers while addressing gender specialties. To progress gender equality on the Platform, a GIZ sponsored whitepaper recommended gender-sensitive platform design, gender-lensed M&E analysis and partnerships. For more details, refer to here

Human Centered Design

In scaling up agriculture insurance, gender-sensitive consultative methods need to be employed to allow female farmers involvement in the design of insurance products that serve their needs and improve access to insurance for rural women. In Mainstreaming Gender and Targeting Women in Inclusive Insurance, two viable distribution strategies are identified: 1) female agents may better understand the needs of women clients as well as provide a basis for building a long-term more comprehensive relationship model for female clients and their insurance provider. It will also facilitate job creation for women. 2) because low-income women are often organized into community-based organizations, these organizations are uniquely positioned to offer women inclusive insurance products, serving as trusted aggregators.

As the industry is moving to increasing levels of personalization in the products as shown in mature markets, similarly in emerging markets, customization and risk differentiations need to be reflected in actuarial calculation, insurance terms, marketing and distribution strategy along with bundling insurance products with value-added services of personalized risk prevention/control measures as well as risk reduction incentives.

Technology-empowered, cost-effective Human-Centered Design (HCD) with local communities would be the next frontier to close the protection gap in rural areas as well as the embedded gender gap. HCD is a design process built on learning directly from customers in their own environments and then creating, evolving, and testing solutions with customers in a more agile and connected way. With balanced digital and in-person engagement, remote sensing technology for risk assessment, advanced analytics using new data to qualify granular risks along with easiness of mobile payment facilitation in an integrated gender lens or any other thematic focus, human-centered insurance product development could become possible, leveraging the social and technological advancement. The design principles have been used to develop/improve customer-centric products and services in many industries including development sector such as adoption of HCD in financial inclusion by CGAP. The World Bank’s Innovation Accelerator worked with IFC and BHDL to use human-centered design (HCD) methodology to transform insights from market research on women customers, their specific needs and preferences, into bundled credit products with insurance coverage for illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancers, as well as plumbing and locksmith services, which produced internal rate of return as high as 35% for the program. A webinar on developing women-centric solutions shared lessons and good practice examples from IFC and WB operational projects in Asia and Africa including a focus on HCD. Built on the evolving technology infrastructure (e.g. digitalization and digital platform), insurers may afford to experiment with HCD techniques in product development to enable a gender-responsive design processes while engaging other marginalized groups (e.g. elderly, disabled, displacement/conflict-affected). Perhaps this technology-integrated HCD would be an important element to consider enhancing the value proposition of the insurers by creating effective solutions to women and other underserved groups in the emerging markets.