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Natural Disaster Risk Pooling to Enhance Financial Access

08.01.2018Johannes Wissel, Financial Consultant

This blog is a summary of Johannes Wissel's Master's thesis on "International Economics and Development".

Limited financial access in times of natural disasters

In her blog of 5 June 2017 Sonja Kelly ascertains the low success of weather-indexed insurance and depicts the reasons why it is not working. She regrets that although these problems are not new, the industry has not managed to solve them.

In addition to insurance, Elodie Gouillat, Rodrigo Deiana and Arthur Minsat and Bella Bird in their blogs of 29 June 2017, 24 October 2017 and 19 December 2017 point out the limited access to finance particularly for low-income households and small enterprises.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) fail to meet the demand of their clients, especially in times of a natural disaster. Despite the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of microfinance, financial access helps to strengthen the natural disaster resiliency of affected communities. MFIs are constrained in providing their services because in times of natural disasters they themselves lack financial access. They are generally not well diversified around the globe. A natural disaster leads to a widespread defaulting on credits in one region and consequently many credits of one MFI have to be written off. Without the access to external financial resources, this will hamper the MFI's capital ratio which is a key indicator of an MFI's solvency and subject to financial supervision. To avoid further risks, MFIs restrict their lending activities.

To improve an MFI's financial access, its natural disaster-related high unsystemic risks need to be transferred out of the region it mainly operates in. Financial investors follow the same principle by diversifying their wealth. However, the only existing opportunity for microfinancial actors to transfer their disaster risks, is looking for reinsurance or reinsurance-like solutions individually. The comparatively unknown market and a non-perfect competition in reinsurance induce an inefficient and costly risk transfer. MFIs usually do not make use of these possibilities.

Introducing a risk transfer innovation

Alternatively, MFIs can mitigate the unsystemic disaster risks by bearing them collectively. A certain extent of risks can be transferred out of a region by pooling the risks among microfinancial actors. Only a minimised remaining risk of the pool itself needs to be transferred to the global capital market, which is expected to save costs. Two decisive prerequisites are fulfilled that allow for a pooling of these risks among microfinancial actors. Firstly, natural disasters do not occur in every region of the world simultaneously. For example, the risk of El Niño floods in Peru is high between January and March and Vietnam might be affected in June and July. Secondly, the distribution of microfinancial actors among the world regions is relatively balanced.

GlobalAgRisk, a U.S.-based research and development company with linkages to the University of Kentucky, intends to implement such a risk pool in 2018. In one hypothetical example, they envisioned a 31%-reduction in funding needs to cover the risks of two microfinance networks by pooling their risks. The impact of a natural disaster on an MFI's portfolio has been modelled for different disaster types and severities based on historic data, in order to determine the extent of contributions that a pool-participating-MFI has to make and the required payouts it potentially receives. This facilitates an index-based risk pooling which enables a quick disaster response and eliminates potential mistrust problems between different participants. In GlobalAgRisk's concept, an affected MFI is projected to receive a credit payout in order to meet the rising demand for credit of its clients and a capital payout that the respective regulatory authorities classify as equity in order to restore the MFI's capital ratio.

In my thesis titled, “Natural Disaster Risk Management in Microfinance”, I evaluated GlobalAgRisk's concept and portrayed potential improvements to increase the concept's likelihood in achieving its aims and depicted certain constraints for the implementation of potential improvements. The full thesis can be found here.

Recommendations: Inclusion of insurance risks in the concept

One potential improvement is the inclusion of insurance risks in the concept. High costs are a common explanation why weather-indexed insurance does not reach scale (see e.g. Sonja Kelly's blog). Microinsurers make use of the outlined costly reinsurance possibilities. Thus, weather-indexed insurance can benefit from the cost advantages risk pooling offers.

If the risk pool contains both credit and insurance risks, its size and diversification are expected to grow and therefore realize additional cost advantages; for example, through lower fixed costs per participant and better prices for reinsuring the pool's remaining risk externally. Moreover, a higher market penetration of weather-indexed insurance improves credit access, because insured clients benefit from a higher creditworthiness.

Even reinsurers can benefit from pooling both risk types among microfinancial actors, by covering the remaining risks that the pool cannot bear by itself. As such, the extent of covered insurance risks decreases for the reinsurers in comparison to insuring full risks. However, the total reinsurance business might grow because reinsurers can incorporate credit risks in addition to insurance risks.

The consolidation of both risk types appears feasible because the pool's payout patterns are similar to those of microinsurers reinsurance. The contribution payment into the pool is equivalent to a reinsurance premium and a payout is triggered if an insurance taker suffers from a damage. The modelled impact of a natural disaster on an MFI's credit portfolio fits in the already prevalent weather-indexed insurance.

Further success factors

For a successful risk pooling, the basis risk that comes along with an index-based risk pooling should be minimised as much as possible. To achieve this, a compartmentalised model that considers the pivotal risk types (e.g. floods, storms, drought, earthquakes) is crucial.

If the risk pool operates as a for-profit company, the benefits of the concept might be endangered. In order to be attractive, the pool only needs to be slightly cheaper than the existing risk transfer possibilities and could charge much higher contributions from the participants than the payouts amount. Establishing the pool as a mutual or cooperative company eliminates these potential profit extractions. In case of profits, they can be returned to the participants. Insuring the pool's remaining risks minimises the danger of suffering from losses as a co-owner. If certain microfinancial actors are restricted because of their co-ownership possibilities, they can participate in the performance of the pool without being a formal co-owner.

Finally, some countries' legal frameworks might require that the pool acquires insurance licences in order to provide the capital payouts. To avoid the acquisition of numerous licences, fronting might be a way out. Insurance companies that already possess licences in the respective countries can insure the participants and pass the risks on to the pool.

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About the Author

Johannes Wissel recently graduated from Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin - University of Applied Sciences, with a Master's in International and Development Economics. He worked in sales management for Hannoversche Volksbank, a German Cooperative Bank. Prior to this, he worked with two international Christian organisations; Forum Wiedenest in Germany and Diguna in Kenya. Johannes is a licenced Corporate Bank Customer Consultant.

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