By Marius Botha*
When it comes to mobile money, there’s no doubt that Africa leads the world. From humble beginnings as a peer-to-peer money transfer system back in 2007, it has boomed to nearly $500bn in transactions in 2020, with more than 560 million users across the continent.
According to the GSMA’s State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money 2021, global daily mobile money transactions exceeded $2 billion for the first time last year, and are expected to pass $3 billion a day by the end of 2022. And there’s still more growth where that came from. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 45% of the continent’s population has an active mobile phone.
What’s interesting is that customers are not only using their accounts more frequently, they are also using them for new and more advanced use cases. Many of the socio-economic and development challenges arising from the pandemic are being tackled with mobile money solutions. This suggests that more people are moving away from the margins of financial systems and are leading increasingly digital lives, the report said.
This is particularly good news for the microinsurance sector, which is growing steadily across Africa on the back of mobile network expansion, and is covering millions of people against financial shocks caused by unexpected life events.
Will microinsurance’s growth mirror that of the mobile money space in Africa? It’s hard to say at this stage. Right now, there are 130 mobile-enabled insurance services in 28 countries, with over half offering coverage for life and funeral or health and hospitalisation services. According to the GMSA report, 43 million policies were issued in 2020, two-thirds (29 million) of which were life and health insurance policies.
For microinsurance to show MoMo-like growth a few things have to happen:
First, a shift in existing perceptions of insurance as something that’s expensive, reserved for the middle class, or not to be trusted. This shift is slowly gathering momentum, largely through word of mouth. The more people experience the tangible benefits of microinsurance, the more they talk about it in their community, which drives greater trust – and ultimately, greater uptake.
Secondly, we need greater diversification of product and benefit options. While some insurance providers have already expanded their offerings from life and health insurance to income protection, education and even house insurance, life and health coverage remain the prevailing offerings.
Thirdly, it’s vital to have enabling insurance and telco regulations across the continent. For example, tax on the use of airtime as a premium collection method in some markets will have to be exempted in some countries. In others, restrictions on mobile money premium collections will have to be amended. The challenge is to build in consumer protection mechanisms to prevent over-charging of customer airtime or mobile money wallets from multiple products, and to ensure sufficient balances remain for other spending needs. We certainly don’t want to see outcomes similar to over-indebted consumers burdened with additional debit order or payroll collections for insurance, as has happened in some markets in the past.
Finally, we need to ensure profitable business models for all product providers in the value chain. While mobile channels reduce the marginal costs of accessing information and participating in financial service activities, the industry still relies on driving sufficiently high volumes of transactions at low costs, and low-cost distribution models. Many consumers still demand some level of face-to-face intermediation, which adds a layer of costs to the equation.
The stage is set for microinsurance to boom in Africa – and hopefully follow the mobile money growth trajectory. And that will be good for everyone, most of all consumers who are currently underserved and under-covered. Let the growth begin.
*Group CEO of African Insurtech aYo Holdings