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"I've got your back" - the role of mutualitées in the DRC

18.07.2017Jaco Weideman, Research Associate & Renée Hunter, Research Analyst - CENFRI

This post was originally published on the CENFRI website.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a country with a volatile history and topography that's tough to navigate. It's not the easiest place to live when you consider the risks that you are exposed to on a regular basis. These might include sickness, unemployment, and unexpected expenses, but also more specific and remarkable challenges, such as buffalos trampling your crops. Now consider that insurance is mostly inaccessible. How would you ensure that you and your family cope?

The people of the DRC have come up with an innovative and complex solution that is very well-suited to their specific needs, in the form of mutualitées. While community-based financial groups such as savings and credit associations or burial societies are seen in many countries in Africa, mutualitées are unique in their design. They are set apart from other co-operative groups by their complexity and broad activity span across different financial services and social functions. In many ways, mutualitées fulfil the role of insurers, investment managers, contractors of public works and public service providers. They manage to meet an entire portfolio of financial needs in one product.

Mutualitées started in the cosmopolitan city of Kinshasa. The coming together of different cultures and ethnicities created a need for groups to preserve and celebrate their heritage. Associations were set up and, over time, their goal evolved from cultural preservation to mutual self-help: supporting their kinsmen within an unfamiliar, and sometimes overwhelming, city, far from home. Marriages were celebrated, deaths were mourned, and assistance was given in times of hardship.

Nowadays, mutualitées are complex and organised social groups where the common bond is no longer limited to a shared ancestry, and the benefits are more than financial.

"The advantages (of a mutualitée) are love and mutual support. We give assistance in case of an illness. In a case of a birth we also assist. We provide support in case of bereavement."

Head of a mutualitée, Kinshasa

The members of a mutualitée convene regularly. At those meetings members contribute a certain sum, with which the management team (made up of highly-esteemed individuals) are charged with fulfilling the mutualitée's numerous aims. Examples range from a small mutualitée of young men that clears stagnant water in a certain suburb to combat malaria, to a large mutualitée that lobbies government in order to reunify the two Congos.

From interviews with members of mutualitées, it emerged that their overarching aim is to assist members in times of need. A common way to do this is via risk pooling or pooled savings. In certain cases of misfortune (such as death or illness) or celebration (such as marriage or childbirth), as the interviewee describes above, members are eligible for a pay-out. A specific amount is set for particular events, such as US$300 for a funeral or US$100 for childbirth. Members therefore know exactly what to expect.

Some mutualitées also assist members through individual savings and credit. The management will guard members' savings for them or, in exceptional cases, based on a member's merit, will provide them with a loan. Moreover, many mutualitées grow their funds by investing in assets. For instance, there's a student mutualitée that invests in fridges from which cold drinks are sold and another buys cars to run a taxi service.

There are also mutualitées that builds infrastructure and conduct activities to generate positive externalities. Examples range from mutualitées funding road improvements, to mutualitées that organise after-school activities for children, such as soccer tournaments.

Thus mutualitees therefore fulfil an important social as well as financial assistance role.

"Firstly, I am proud because I am in an association with my brothers. I lost my son and I did not have enough financial means and the President of the association assisted me with $200 for the coffin."

Staff member of a mutualitée, Kinshasa

So what does this mean for policymakers and regulators?

Given the early stages of retail financial market development in the DRC, where financial access barriers are wide-spread and only the top end of the market is served in the formal financial sector, the mutualitée provides a uniquely tailored, local solution to many. This creates a policy imperative to acknowledge and protect the role that the mutualitée plays in serving those outside the reach of the formal financial sector. It also poses the question of whether formalisation of these financial services is desirable and, if so, what would this formalisation look like. The implementation of the 2015 Insurance Act, which states that all providers of insurance, including mutual associations, are subject to new and stringent requirements relating to market entry and minimum capital criteria, may be the first warning light for the future of mutualitées. If strictly enforced, this would place most in jeopardy.

Should mutualitées come under threat, it will mean not only the loss of a broad-reaching financial services, but also a valuable social support network. So, whilst some will merely lament the cancellation of a local kids' soccer tournament, a greater hardship will come for those that have nowhere to turn when they need money for a hospital bill or worse, a funeral.

We encountered the phenomenon of mutualitées during our in-country research work for the Making Access Possible (MAP) study. MAP draws insights from both qualitative and quantitative, demand and supply-side research, with inputs from stakeholders in both the public and private sector. This feeds into a financial inclusion roadmap. The diagnostic for MAP DRC is forthcoming and will be released soon.

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About the Authors

Jaco Weideman is a research associate at Cenfri and has been part of the team since November 2014. Since joining the team, Jaco has been involved in several projects in Mozambique and South Africa. Jaco has been part of the team conducing MAP diagnostics in Mozambique, Madagascar and DRC, responsible for FinScope data analysis, and segmentation to identifying potential target groups for financial services providers in the country. Renée Hunter is a research analyst working within i2i's Client Insights team. Her research to date has mostly focused on client centricity and data protection. Before joining i2i, Renée worked as a junior researcher at Cenfri, and before that as a junior business developer for Divitel - an independent video systems integrator.

To the Future and Back: Financial Inclusion in the Arab World

17.07.2017Nadine Chehade, Financial Inclusion Specialist, CGAP

This post was originally published on the CGAP website.

Imagine it is 2030 and nearly everyone in the Arab world has access to financial services. Over the past two decades, legal reforms have expanded the financial market for existing and new financial service providers, spurring greater specialization and competition. People can make small payments (whether P2P, P2B, B2B, P2G, or G2P) in seconds - rendering the half-a-day trip to pay a utility bill a story from the past. Deposit amounts within the formal financial system, whether at full-fledged banks, payments banks or microfinance banks, have increased two- to five-fold. Fueled by this additional liquidity, formal lending to the private sector and to individuals has had a multiplier effect, contributing to GDP growth to an extent that has actually reduced inequalities. More private-public partnerships are soon expected to provide near-universal insurance coverage to all.

Now back to reality. In 2017, the picture is starkly different. Analysis of the available Findex data, as shown in a joint Arab Monetary Fund-CGAP report on financial inclusion measurement in the Arab world, points to a large unmet demand for financial services. Our analysis shows that 70 percent of adults in the region (168 million people) lack access to a basic account, and this figure reaches close to 80 percent in the region's developing countries. Significantly, our analysis also shows that many of the unbanked are active economic citizens, as evidenced by the fact that 92 million people report borrowing informally. Taken together, these figures suggest that financial service providers have an opportunity to address a huge unmet demand across the Arab world, including in countries with relatively more active financial markets.

At first glance, it might be hard to believe that a full 70 percent of people in the region lack access to a bank account. But the trends are identical when analyzing the supply-side figures from the International Monetary Fund's Financial Access Survey. No matter how you look at it, whether by surveying people in the streets or by aggregating data from financial service providers, the conclusion is the same: The Arab world lags behind other regions in access to formal financial services.

Source: Findex 2011 and 2014 data, except for bars in purple, computed based on the Findex data.

Note: Findex reports an average of 14% for "Middle East developing countries," including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen. Other figures for the Arab world are calculated as averages weighted by the population aged 15+. GCC countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. The Arab world includes all AMF member countries, namely GCC countries and Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Source: Findex 2011 and 2014 data, except for Morocco (estimated by applying to the 2011 Findex data the growth rate reported by Bank Al Maghrib on the number of accounts as collected from financial service providers).

Note: Only 2011 data are presented for countries where no data for 2014 are available (Comoros, Djibouti, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Syria).

The good news is that we are getting closer to the future I described above. The Arab world has seen tangible progress in financial inclusion over the past few years, including changes to legal and regulatory frameworks, which have historically been (and still often are) the region's main obstacles to financial inclusion. Many of the changes from 2011 to 2015 focused on microcredit, but several countries made it possible for non-bank financial institutions to offer credit services and to market insurance products on behalf of insurance companies for the first time (e.g., Tunisia law-decree n°117, Palestine regulation n°132, Egypt microfinance law n°141, and Jordan microfinance companies regulation n°5). More recently, revamped banking laws have authorized payments companies licensed and supervised by a central bank to issue transactional accounts (e.g., Morocco's 2015 banking law n°12.103 and Tunisia's 2016 banking law n°48). Upcoming executive regulations in Morocco and Tunisia are expected to make a big difference in processing small payments for the unbanked and banked alike. Jordan now allows both refugees and nationals to open e-wallets, after taking the bold bet of mandating interoperability among mobile payment service providers from the first day of operations (unlike in many other countries, where interoperability may take years). Qatar, which like many GCC countries hosts large numbers of migrant workers, made remittances through mobile easy and cheap, improving the lives of thousands throughout the region and beyond.

As a number of countries put financial inclusion strategies into place, the region is also benefiting from increased knowledge sharing. The Arab Monetary Fund's Financial Inclusion Task Force is one example where knowledge exchange among regional central banks happens. In collaboration with several partners, the task force is making more and more tools available on topics ranging from demand-side surveys and financial consumer protection to de-risking.

Of course, much more remains to be done on all fronts to meet the Arab world's large unmet demand for financial services. Access to small savings, arguably the most important financial service for low-income people, requires more enabling legal frameworks (e.g., tiered licensing of service providers and tiered customer due diligence) so that specialized providers can emerge and become sustainable. The exceptions are perhaps countries like Morocco or Tunisia, where active postal networks play a key role in offering basic services, or Yemen, where a sound microfinance banking law is already in place. Gender-disaggregated data on financial inclusion in the region is not yet available, although it would allow for more targeted policies to nudge social norms on broader women's legal and economic rights. Lastly, even where regulation and infrastructure are in place, financial inclusion stakeholders have yet to witness success stories and market gaps being truly addressed.

Hopes are nonetheless high, and arguably the biggest change to take place over the past five years is encouraging: the shift in discourse among policymakers, who now acknowledge financial exclusion realities. The emerging consensus is that there is an untapped market and a huge opportunity to bring adapted financial services to those who need them, for the benefit of all. To advance financial inclusion, we need fact-based policies, implemented and championed by a critical mass of policy-makers who are eager to improve their countries' financial systems. Now that a number of institutions are joining forces to make this happen, today's opportunities may very well become tomorrow's realities.

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About the Author

Nadine Chehade is CGAP's representative in the Arab world. She works to deepen CGAP's engagement in the region, collaborating with various partners, including regulators and policy-makers, donors and investors, and national and regional associations. She covers matters related to policy, research, and donor coordination, with the overarching goal of advancing financial inclusion. Nadine joined CGAP in 2012, bringing ten years of experience in investment banking, management consulting, and microfinance. Prior to that, she worked as Planet Rating's Business Development Manager and MENA Director. Nadine holds an MBA from ESSEC in France. She is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and conversational in Spanish.

Growth and financial inclusion: Where is Tanzania today?

29.06.2017Bella Bird, Country Director, The World Bank

This post was originally published on the World Bank blogs website.

Two Tanzanian entrepreneurs: Hadiya and Mzuzi. Hadiya has built a successful micro-business taking advantage of mobile money services, including money transfers and savings products that are low cost and safe, as well as short term micro-loans. But Mzuzi, the owner of a small, 10-person enterprise, is facing a financial crisis despite huge personal drive and inventiveness because of his inability to access credit to expand.

The stories of these two entrepreneurs embody the experiences of real-life Tanzanians seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. Their need for financial products and services opens the second section of the 9th Edition of the Tanzania Economic Update series which, in addition to providing the World Bank's regular overview of the economy, puts a special focus on an issue of strategic significance to the country.

The broad story of Tanzania's growth and poverty reduction over the past decade is now well known: With strong and consistent growth rates of 6%-7%, Tanzania has performed very well by regional standards. But while the poverty level in Tanzania has declined significantly, roughly 12 million Tanzanians still live on less than Sh1,300 (58 US cents) per day, with many others living just above the poverty line and at risk of falling back into extreme poverty in the event of an economic shock.

A key challenge for Tanzania's economy is the estimated 800,000 young women and men who enter the job market annually with only limited opportunities to find a productive job.

Maintaining and accelerating growth requires the right policies. Tanzania's impressive growth to date has been driven by the decisions of the past. Future growth will be driven by the decisions of today's leaders. The Government of Tanzania is clear that it is focused on achieving an annual 10% rate of growth by 2020 but, to build on the current momentum, it needs to pay attention to three key areas. These are the subject of this latest economic update.

Firstly, the government should maintain its prudent macroeconomic policy management. Secondly, there should be effective management of public investment. Thirdly, Tanzania needs to unlock the growth potential of the private sector. There is no alternative to private sector-led growth to reach the levels of investment, employment and poverty reduction that will fulfil the aspirations of the Tanzanian people.

As Tanzania enjoyed a decade of stable growth, the country also made very impressive progress towards creating an efficient, low-cost mobile money infrastructure. This helped to extend financial inclusion for the benefit of many. However, the much larger formal financial system, which is critical for the growth of the business sector, continues to lag behind. Additional steps are therefore needed to further improve the mobilization of savings, whilst providing access to affordable credit to the real economy. Interest rates remain high and access to credit very restricted, resulting in a lower ratio of credit to the private sector relative to Tanzania's GDP, compared to regional and global comparators.

Three directions are suggested to secure the prospects of citizens like Hadiya and Mzuzi and many more like them.

Firstly, undertake measures to expand access to those still not participating in financial services: almost one out of three adults lacks access to financial services, with women and citizens in rural areas still strongly disadvantaged. A complete and swift roll out of an efficient and inclusive National ID system, coupled with the shift towards electronic payments for government-related transactions, including for social transfers such as TASAF, could facilitate the expansion and deepening of financial inclusion.

Secondly, deepening inclusion by broadening the use of more advanced financial products and services could help Tanzania move towards a more formalized, transparent, and dynamic economy. This can be achieved through measures that foster competition between banks and other financial service providers.

Last but not least, Tanzanians' access to affordable long-term credit needs to be improved. Reducing the pressure of public borrowing would reduce the disincentives for lending to the private sector, which would in turn improve the availability of long-term credit.

Tanzania holds great potential for accelerating its growth for the benefit of all citizens. Taking measures to bring money within reach of enterprising citizens will help to harness their latent talent, energy and drive. This will not only contribute to growth of the economy, but widen opportunities for men and women, the Hadiyas and Mzuzi's, to benefit and play their part.

With these needs in mind, Tanzania is among the 25 priority countries within the World Bank Group's Universal Financial Access 2020 initiative, whose goal is to enable access to transaction accounts as a first step toward broader financial inclusion.

We hope that this Ninth Edition of the Tanzania Economic Update will contribute to the debate.

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About the Author

Bella Bird became the Country Director for Tanzania, Burundi, Malawi and Somalia in July 2015. She is based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Prior to taking up this role, Bella was the World Bank Country Director for Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, based in Nairobi, Kenya from 2011 to 2015. Before joining the Bank in 2011, Bella served in various leadership positions in the UK Department for International Development (DFID). From 2009 - 2011, she was Head of Governance Policy in DFID. She provided leadership to a number of international policy processes at the OECD, as well as leading policy development on governance and fragile states policy within DFID. Bella also previously served in the roles of Head of DFID Nepal and of DFID Vietnam. Prior to these positions, she spent seven years with DFID as an adviser on poverty and social issues in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. She played a leadership role for the UK government and internationally on policies to promote state-building and peace building, championing aid effectiveness and south-south collaboration.

The Supervisory Challenges of Financial Inclusion

06.06.2017Dr. Bryan Barnett, Banking Advisor US Treasury, Office of Technical Assistance

This post was originally posted on the AFI website.

In pursuit of their mission to ensure the integrity of financial systems, regulators have two distinct tasks. The first is developing the rules and regulations that govern the authorization and operations of financial institutions. The second is supervising those institutions to ensure that regulations are followed and risks are identified and addressed.

Over the last several decades, the drive to include populations formerly excluded from the formal financial system has introduced new kinds of financial products, service providers and digital technologies that have improved the lives of millions, but pose challenges for regulators on both the policy and supervision fronts. Though these developments have generated a significant amount of interest in regulatory policy, the impact of new policies on the task of actual supervision has received relatively little attention. And while there is still work to be done on the policy front, there is now an urgent need to address the practical impact of these policies on actual supervision of financial service providers (FSPs). In a rapidly changing environment, a definitive account of these impacts may not be possible, but it's not too early to consider some of the major issues and the resulting need for capacity building among financial supervisors.

Most apparent among these issues is the dramatic expansion of the number and types of financial institutions that regulators are required to supervise. Once responsible for supervising a limited number of banks, they are now increasingly expected to supervise an array of non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs), including microfinance institutions, cooperatives, SACCOs, mobile money issuers, and others. In contrast to traditional banks which are relatively few and relatively large, NBFIs are for the most part numerous and small. A supervisor formerly responsible for at most a couple of dozen institutions may now be responsible for hundreds. And whereas all banks are broadly similar, there is now much greater heterogeneity among the types of institutions and products subject to oversight.

At the same time, the increasing use of agents that may number in the tens of thousands poses special challenges. Though it is widely accepted that principals are responsible for oversight of their own agents, the task of ensuring that principals are fulfilling this requirement adequately is generally a new and different responsibility for many financial regulators. To this must be added rapid evolution in electronic payment systems, involving a host of new types of payment service providers and payment technologies. Gone are the days when it was enough to keep an eye on things like check clearing, cards or the ACH.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, there is everywhere a heightened concern for consumer protection. It is a concern of special significance to financial inclusion programs that aspire to reach customers with limited literacy (financial or otherwise). Enhanced supervision under new consumer protection rules is for many regulators a largely new domain of responsibility, again multiplied by the large number of service providers concerned.

Related to all these issues is the requirement that license applications for new entrants be reviewed prior to approval and increasingly a requirement also that all new financial inclusion products be pre-approved by the regulator before being introduced. This process is exceedingly labor intensive, often requiring multiple iterations of a cycle of feedback and re-submission before a final decision is reached. Workloads are directly proportional to the pace of expansion and change in a financial services marketplace where innovation and expansion in the name of greater inclusion is often strongly encouraged. That means that workloads are expanding rapidly, threatening careful review or timely decisions or both.

These challenges are uniformly driven by policies that are here to stay and the major implications are now clear. First of all, there will never be enough staff to meet these challenges using traditional approaches. For many FSPs on-site examinations will necessarily be cursory, relatively rare or both. Moreover, with very limited human resources (relative to the scale of the task), the adoption of a risk-based approach to supervision will cease to be merely a desirable goal and will become an absolute condition of effective supervision. Given the need to develop risk profiles on numerous FSPs and products, it will be necessary to concentrate on the development of sound sector-based risk assessments and validated risk indicators that can be monitored remotely. This in turn suggests that the traditional separation of on-site and off-site supervision will need to be overcome and individual supervisors will have to be equipped to employ both approaches as and where indicated without regard for geographic proximity or any sort of programmed schedule.

Beyond sheer numbers, the heterogeneity among types of institutions and products suggests that greater specialization among available staff will be essential. This is especially acute in the case of payment systems which have significantly different mechanics and operating rules from one to the next. Moreover, the risks associated with these systems are generally not the credit or market risks associated with prudentially regulated institutions, but are primarily operational and liquidity risks that need special attention. In particular, this applies to the complex technology upon which all modern payment systems rely. There is no possibility of adequate supervision of these payment systems absent properly specialized expertise on the part of individual personnel.

Thinking about possible means to address some of these challenges, a few things are clear. First, regulators will have to rely much more heavily on information technology and develop the ability to effectively gather and analyze large amounts of remotely-collected data. This means careful attention to the structuring of data collected in monthly or quarterly reports. It means the end of reports submitted as spreadsheets that are manually consolidated and the universal use of web-based report submission backed by automated preprocessing to ensure accuracy and completeness. There will need to be a much greater use of statistical techniques to establish what is normal among a particular set of providers so that anomalies can be isolated and investigated quickly.

With respect to licensing and pre-authorization of products, it will be essential to develop simple efficient systems whereby applications can be entered electronically, workflow can be tracked, and routine communications can be automated. Where regulators are granted discretion to judge the appropriateness or adequacy of an applicant's proposed businesses or products, it will be necessary to articulate clear expectations and guidelines for the exercise of that discretion in order to alert applicants and reduce the volume of deficient applications that needlessly consume staff time.

For agents, the assignment of a unique ID for each agent and the creation of national agent registries will be necessary to provide principals with critical information about a prospective agent's prior history as an agent (if any) allowing them to avoid the cost of taking on agents with a questionable background. The same registry will facilitate consumer protection if each agent's ID number is displayed at its place of business, allowing customers to make complaints without having to otherwise collect identifying information on the agent in question.

Such a registry and ID system will also enable the development of apps allowing customers to easily rate agents or file complaints directly from their phone. That also means that supervisors will need to be prepared to process a potentially significant volume of customer complaints, some of which will be referred to a provider for resolution, others which may involve escalation of complaints that a provider has failed to address. Basic systems for tracking and analyzing these complaints will be necessary. Such systems are a common feature of many businesses, but will be very new to most regulators.

Finally, with regard to the rapidly evolving and ever more complex world of technology supporting financial inclusion, regulators will have to move away from the practice of directly inspecting provider's IT infrastructure using the regulator's own staff and will instead have to rely on a variety of qualified independent auditors and recognized international standards for certification of systems and the management of IT systems. At the same time, if not themselves conducting IT audits, supervisory staff will nevertheless need to be able to read and understand the recommendations contained in auditors' reports in order to ensure that recommendations are followed and issues are addressed.

These are surely not the only changes to traditional regulatory practice that will ultimately be required. And there can be no expectation that the changes required will be easy or quick to achieve. But it is vital that regulators begin to contemplate the future and start to plan for it. At the same time, it is critical that technical assistance and capacity building help regulators adapt traditional supervisory approaches to the new environment. The needed changes will take time and inevitably proceed in stages. But with careful prioritization and a commitment to continual progress it will soon enough be possible to look back and wonder what it was that originally seemed so daunting.

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About the Author

Dr. Bryan Barnett is an advisor for banking and financial services with the Office of Technical Assistance of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He works with financial regulators in developing countries to help them modernize and strengthen their financial systems. A major focus of his work is helping regulators adapt regulations and processes to support expanded access to financial services to underserved populations.

Weather-Indexed Insurance: Why Isn't It Working?

05.06.2017Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI)

This post was originally posted on the CFI-Blog Website.

Weather-indexed insurance is brilliant. It's just not working.

It's brilliant because it solves one of the basic challenges of insurance: moral hazard. Under the principle of moral hazard, having insurance tends to make an individual's behavior riskier, increasing the likelihood that the product will be used. If I have fantastic health insurance, for example, I may be more likely to make riskier life decisions because I don't feel the financial effects of the consequences of those decisions quite so acutely. If insurance is tied to the weather, however, nothing an individual does (unless you believe in the efficacy of a rain dance) will "trigger" the insurance.

Weather-indexed insurance is not a new phenomenon. Over the last decade we've heard exciting stories about weather-indexed crop microinsurance and the lifeline it offers to farmers given our world's quickly-changing climate. Weather-indexed insurance was bundled with agricultural inputs like seeds or livestock, and the product was lauded as a way to increase the inclusion of poor people in insurance.

Amazing, right? So why, after a decade, aren't customers buying? In India, for example, only 5 percent of farmers have taken it up where available.

  • It's complicated. Insurance is incredibly complex to explain to a consumer. There are no easy examples for consumers to reference in their mental maps of products. The concept has no analogues in the local culture.
  • It costs a lot. Low-value insurance is very expensive for companies to offer, and weather-indexed insurance is no exception. While the weather-based trigger makes it cheap to determine when claims are valid, the product requires a critical mass of people to break even, and it is costly to acquire all of those customers.
  • And it's undervalued. At the same time, customers often under-value insurance. In experiments looking at whether insurance products are priced appropriately vis-à-vis customer perception, there is skepticism regarding the price of premiums for an intangible product. A number of years ago, some researchers discovered that even when subsidized so that insurance would yield an expected return of 181 percent, only half of households offered the product decided to purchase it.
  • Making an insurance claim is annoying, and recourse mechanisms are not great. Weather-indexed insurance targets individuals living in remote areas who might lack experience with insurance claims or formal financial services. Moreover, available weather data has been a limiting factor for the scope and accuracy of the services' automation. Recourse mechanisms are often a struggle with financial services for the base of the pyramid, and there have been documented incidences of similar issues in the weather-indexed insurance segment.
  • "Freemiums" can give insurance a bad rap. A "freemium" is an insurance product offered for free alongside another product that the customer is paying for. For example, rental car insurance comes with a credit card. Credit life insurance comes with a microloan. Health insurance comes with a mobile wallet. The problem is that customers often don't know they have the product, which can reduce the offering's credibility. The freemium approach has been met with success in some cases, but to achieve this, it's essential that customers have a strong awareness and understanding of the product.
  • Governments aren't really on board, even though the product would increase economic growth. Noteworthy exceptions to this are the governments of Canada, India, and the United States, which subsidize premiums by at least 50 percent. However, such involvement by many governments in Africa, for example, would likely not be affordable.

These results are not new. It's just that the industry has not found compelling solutions to these problems.

It's no wonder weather-indexed insurance for low-income populations continues to limp along, even though it is one of the financial sector's greatest inventions (in this blogger's opinion). The best way forward for weather-indexed insurance is either providing it for free (which is why Shawn Cole advocates so strongly for public-private partnerships) or bundling both the price and the service with existing financial products. And ensuring that individuals sufficiently understand the products and their benefits, and that the products work well - i.e. making a claim or a complaint is as seamless as possible.

But I'd love to be proven wrong-do you know an example of a weather-indexed insurance that's working?

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About the Author

Sonja Kelly conducts and facilitates financial inclusion research at CFI, directing the CFI Fellows Program, developing frameworks to understand critical concepts like financial health and financial capability, and facilitating the Global Microscope research. She serves as research lead on many topics related to financial inclusion. In her own research and work, Sonja focuses on regulation and policy, the role of banks in financial inclusion, and especially vulnerable populations. Sonja has a doctorate in international relations from American University, where her dissertation focused on financial inclusion policy and regulation. She has previously worked at the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, and Opportunity International. Sonja is currently a member of the board of directors of People Reaching People, and has held volunteer positions as president of the Washington DC chapter of Women Advancing Microfinance, and as president of the steering committee for Northwest Chicago Young Life.

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