Africa Finance Forum Blog
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First published on the Milken Institute Blog website.
A key step in developing a local capital market is to develop the "buy side"-to encourage greater participation of local institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance firms. If managed well, these pools of savings can become important sources of long-term financing, including for infrastructure, which can drive socioeconomic growth.
The share of residents in East African Community (EAC) countries Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda who access pension and insurance products is still small, although growing. Savings managed by local institutional investors in these countries nearly doubled in just four years, to about $19 billion by early 2016. We recently surveyed buy-side institutions in these four countries to ask how they are managing savings across asset classes and EAC countries. See the findings here.
We found that most of these investors want to further diversify their portfolios, but they are impeded largely by a lack of investable securities and risk-management products that allow them to invest in a way that meets their aims. This points to a need in these markets for more long-term investment vehicles, in particular-as well as market participants. For example, a large majority of surveyed investors showed strong interest in new vehicles such as a regional "fund of funds" that could pool their resources and manage risk by investing across diverse infrastructure projects by sector and country.
There already are clear signs that pension funds, in particular, have been diversifying their portfolios over the past decade-shifting further away from the most liquid asset classes. Surveyed pension funds hold an average of just 1 percent in cash and demand deposits across the EAC focus countries. And pension fund and insurer investments in short-term government securities typically fall well below national and even internal ceilings. Survey findings show pension funds generally hold much more in longer-term than short-term government securities. But very limited corporate bond holdings, even for pension funds, is at least partly the result of small market size and lack of product.
Our findings also show that tiny allocations so far to private equity and venture capital (PE/VC) reflect limited experience and capacity evaluating these new asset classes-more so than lack of demand or investment limits. In fact, national regulatory approaches are still evolving. Greater clarity on how regulators will treat these new asset classes may encourage more investment. While certainly not risk-free, some investment in PE/VC as part of a well-managed portfolio could help generate returns. At the same time, it will be important to boost risk-evaluation capacity among regulators, investors, and financial intermediaries.
How do national regulations affect how these investors manage their portfolios? We found that in most cases, national regulatory investment limits are not the binding constraint preventing local institutional investors in the EAC from further diversifying their portfolios. Their actual allocations to public equities and corporate bonds generally fall well below national regulatory caps. And internally set targets tend to fall well below national ceilings-as does actual investment in these securities.
Around half of investors said they invest some of their portfolio assets outside their home countries-typically in other EAC countries. How can these EAC markets draw on regional ties to attract institutional investors? Roughly half of survey participants said access to better strategies and instruments for managing foreign exchange risk would make them more likely to invest in assets across EAC borders.
We found that some investors may not be clear on the intraregional restrictions by asset class they actually face. Regulators should step up communications with investors to ensure they clearly understand both the limits and opportunities in how they invest within the EAC and across asset classes. A well-functioning buy side can reduce an economy's reliance on foreign portfolio investors, increasing its resilience to sudden capital inflows and outflows. Further progress on intraregional integration within the EAC may help mitigate some of the risks associated with cross-border investment. Limited investable securities in local capital markets strengthens the case for easing or harmonizing restrictions intraregionally. This, in turn, could improve market liquidity, deepen the EAC's capital markets, and make it easier for local institutional investors to diversify their portfolios.
Our complete survey findings are available here.
About the Author
Jim Woodsome is a Senior Research Analyst at the Milken Institute's Center for Financial Markets. In this role, he conducts research, organizes events and helps manage initiatives related to the Center's Capital Markets for Development (CM4D) program.
First published by FSD Africa on 9 February 2017.
Nearly a year ago, we joined the A2ii in Abidjan to sit down with a roomful of regulators to discuss the challenges and imperatives CIMA faces in regulating mobile insurance at the CIMA-A2ii Workshop on Mobile Insurance Regulation. In the CIMA context, as with most countries in Africa, mobile network operators (MNOs) and the technical service providers (TSPs) that support them are emerging as key players in extending the reach of insurance. The discussions at the workshop focused on how insurance regulators can broaden their focus to include these MNOs and TSPs, as well as how to cooperate across different regulatory authorities.
A year on, these considerations remain as valid as ever, but we have come to realise that there is more at stake than m-insurance. Digital technology is changing the insurance landscape as we know it by paving the way for new players and business models with the potential to rapidly expand coverage. This is causing a re-think of how insurance is traditionally delivered. In addition, while m-insurance remains important, looking beyond m-insurance to the broader insurtech field is important to truly understand the opportunities technology provides to change the game in inclusive insurance and the associated risks.
Thus far, the insurtech debate has largely focused on developed country opportunities. But the tide is turning. My colleagues and I recently scanned the use of insurtech in the developing world to see what the potential is for addressing challenges in inclusive insurance. We found more than 90 initiatives in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa that fit the bill. What we saw is that the "insurtech effect" is happening in two ways.
Firstly, digital technology is a tool to make insurance as we know it better: it is being used as a backbone to various elements of the insurance life cycle, in an effort to streamline processes, bring down costs and enable scale. Examples include new ways of data collection, communication and analytics (think big data, smart analytics, telematics, sensor-technology, artificial intelligence - the list goes on), as well as leveraging mobile and online platforms for front and back-end digital functionality (such as roboadvisors, online broker platforms, mobile phone or online claims lodging and processing, to name a few!). It also allows for more tailored offerings: on-demand insurance initiatives are covering consumers for specific periods where they need that cover, for example for a bus ride, on vacation or when borrowing a friend's car for one evening, while advances in sensor technology mean that insurers can adapt cover and pricing based on usage, for example allowing customers to only pay car insurance for the kilometres they actually drive every month.
In all of the above, digital technology, including the application of blockchain for smart contracting and claims, makes the process seamless.
Secondly, digital technology is a game changer. In many ways, it is changing the way insurers do business, design and roll out their products, and, importantly, who is involved in the value chain. Peer to peer platforms (P2P) are a much-discussed example of these next generation models. They are designed to match parties seeking insurance with those willing to cover these risks. The revolutionary element lies in the ability to cover risks that insurers usually shy away from due to the lack of data to adequately price the risks - all now enabled by digital technology. But these platforms are often positioned in regulatory grey areas: if all the platform does is match people to pool their own risks, does it then need a licensed insurer involved? And if advice is provided by a robot powered by an algorithm, who is ultimately accountable? No wonder insurance supervisors are sitting up straight when you mention the word "tech". As Luc Noubussi, microinsurance specialist at the CIMA secretariat, said at the 12th International Microinsurance Conference in Sri Lanka late last year: "Technology can have a major impact on microinsurance, but change is happening fast and regulators need to understand it".
So, how do they remain on the front foot in light of all of this, what different functions, systems and players do they need to take into account and what are the risks arising? In short: how can they best facilitate innovation while protecting policyholders? Front of mind is how current regulatory and supervisory frameworks should accommodate new modalities, functions and roles - many of them outside the ambit of "traditional" insurance regulatory frameworks - and what cooperation is required between regulatory authorities to achieve that.
Two weeks from now we'll again be sitting down with regulators from sub-Saharan Africa for the Mobile Insurance Regulation conference hosted in Douala, Cameroon, from 23 - 24 February 2017 by the A2ii, the IAIS and the 14 state West-African insurance regulator, CIMA, supported by UK aid, FSD Africa and the Munich Re Foundation. This conference will delve into the opportunities that mobile insurance present and the considerations for regulators and supervisors in designing and implementing regulations to accommodate it. The imperative to find an m-insurance regulatory solution remains, but it is clear that the horizon has broadened: at play is the way that insurance is done across the product life cycle, who the players are in the value chain and, at times, the very definition of insurance.
As we suggested in an earlier blog, this could be microinsurance's Uber moment, but then regulators need to be on-board. We look forward to taking part in the discussions to see how supervisors plan to do just that.
About the Author
Catherine Denoon-Stevens is a Senior Research Associate at Cenfri and has been part of the team since 2012. At Cenfri, her research has focused on building access to inclusive insurance markets, specifically the harmonisation of insurance regulation within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region; innovative financial services distribution models; and Making Access to Financial Services Possible (MAP) studies in Southern Africa and South Asia. In addition, she is part of the team that runs Cenfri's capacity building portfolio, coordinating open-enrolment and in-house executive education trainings in microinsurance and national payment systems.