By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Several micro-insurance firms have offered products catering to the same market and all in the name of financial inclusion. BIMA Philippines is one of the latest entrants in this sector that promises protection coverage.
Country manager Melvin Juruena spells the difference for his micro-insurance firm in the race to provide access to people who do not have protection coverage because of the prohibitive cost on most insurance products.
BIMA is more than just a micro-insurance company but an insurance technology startup that offers products for the mass market the non-traditional way. It operates and sells micro-insurance products purely via mobile technology.
Founded in Sweden, BIMA is an insurance business model especially designed for emerging markets where insurance cover was placed at a mere 3 percent of their nationals, but who have 80 percent mobile phones.
BIMA founder and CEO Gustaf Agartson launched the company’s first operation in Ghana, Africa in 2010 initially focusing on providing affordable insurance products to underserved consumers and later expanding into mobile health services in 2015.
The successful model has been replicated across 11 developing markets in Africa and Asia. In Africa, it has presence in Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, and Egypt. In Asia, BIMA operates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.
Since then, BIMA has sold 33 million policies worldwide and 575,000 new customers are added per month.
BIMA’s products are uniquely affordable, simple and easy to understand. It offers a range of low-cost life, personal accident and hospitalization products. It has 3,500 agents working in local markets.
In most of its operating markets, BIMA works with local underwriters who have comprehensive understanding of the local risk profile as well as the regulatory requirements for compliance. In the Philippines, BIMA currently works with Pioneer Life, Inc.
It was launched in the Philippines in 2014 followed by in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.
“We are considered a new market,” says Melvin, who said that BIMA’s budget allocation in the Philippines is an indication of its bullish outlook in the country.
“With lots of young people with more disposable income, Filipinos are more conscious about managing their finances,” he adds.
While insurance firms continue to offer products the traditional way, BIMA uses mobile technology to deliver affordable insurance products to the mass market.
“The difference between other insurance firms is we use the power of mobile technology to be able to scale,” he adds.
Mobile technology has enabled BIMA to deliver affordable and easy-to-use insurance and health products that emerging consumers need but cannot access through traditional channels. It uses its proprietary technology platform to digitalize registration and automate premium payments while using its 3,500-strong global agent workforce to educate consumers on insurance.
BIMA’s own data on 26 million emerging markets consumers gives it a unique understanding of the needs and behaviors of this segment, enabling it to design better platforms, products and processes.
It created the concept of mobile micro-insurance where there was nothing before and has opened up an entirely new market of low-income customers where traditional insurers did not have the appropriate infrastructure to address previously.
Through the development of its mobile insurance platform, BIMA is able to digitally distribute insurance products to the mass consumer market in an extremely cost-effective way, thereby widening access to insurance on an unprecedented scale.
BIMA’s call center agents can reach out to potential customers in the most far-off communities who can now access insurance simply via their mobiles. All BIMA agents educate customers at the point of purchase, to make sure that they fully understand the products and the claims process via their mobile phones.
Requiring no paper ID, customers can register for insurance via handset in under 2 minutes. Customers can also make claims directly by submitting required documents via social media channels.
Since its launch in 2010, the company has established mobile as the fastest-growing distribution channel for insurance and mobile health services in developing markets.
Melvin happened to be in Paris for his MBA at the prestigious HEC when the opportunity to work with BIMA presented itself. After his studies, he was offered the job and joined the company in August last year as country manager for the Philippines.
During the past year of his leadership of the local unit, Melvin was able to more than triple its topline revenue by focusing on addressing the typical barriers in micro insurance. Melvin said they are on track to double their current 100 headcount by 2020.
“We’re doing very well,” says Melvin.
In a short period of time, Melvin was responsible in creating and implementing a new sales distribution model by shifting from field sales to telemarketing and employing upmarket strategy that resulted in increase in premium collection from 30 percent to 90 percent and tripled its total revenue.
He developed relationship with fintech players like PayMaya, GCash, and Coins.ph and insurance underwriters like Allianz to create additional product distribution channels and increase product offering.
He also grew a team of over 100 employees and opened a second office in less than 6 months to support company’s rapid growth and expansion.
With tech-savvy, young and upwardly moving population who are increasingly aware of their finances and investments, Melvin expects insurance penetration in the Philippines to go up as high as 60 percent from the current 1.8 percent.
“With the use of mobile technology, we open up accessibility for the masses to our very affordable micro-insurance products,” says Melvin. At present, it has an estimated 100,000 customers from the middle to low income market.
When BIMA opened in 2014, they had motorcycle drivers and vendors as clients. Now, they focus on the middle class and small and medium enterprises that traditional insurance players failed to tap because they develop insurance products for wealthy individuals. But BIMA’s products are designed with the mass market in mind.
“We’ve seen large uptick recently in demand from the mid-market,” he adds. In fact, their clientele base has reversed from what used to be 90 percent low-income to the mid-income bracket.
Their telesales people sitting in their premises have reached as many people as possible. They may not have agents physically present in remote areas, but their platform enables them to tap the remotest barangays using their mobile technology.
The power of mobile technology has enabled BIMA to substantially bring down the cost and offer these very affordable protection packages.
They have product as low as ₱45 but they also found out that people would like to get the higher premium because some have realized they would need a bigger amount for their loved ones. At BIMA, a ₱70 insurance policy premium a month can already give protection cover of ₱210,000.
The insurance industry has struggled to service consumers at the bottom-of-the-pyramid because of these main barriers: Low levels of knowledge and trust in financial services, high distribution costs and critically lack of suitable payment channels.
On access, Melvin said that connectivity in the country is improving and more Filipinos are now able to access the internet as costs have also gone down. He also noted that 99 percent of internet users in the country are in the social media or digital platforms.
“That is an opportunity so the challenge for us is to make communication campaigns that are very relevant to us because we have to address some trust issues in the industry,” he adds noting that they help bridge this gap via its education campaign.
The most immediate concern is the issue of trust in the overall insurance business. Since most people are not confident dealing insurance product 100 percent digital, BIMA has agents to speak to clients to give human interphase and explain what the product is all about.
With the high growth being experienced by BIMA, Melvin could only say they have at least built a certain level of confidence with their clients.
“We are profitable and with reliable partners we are able to settle claims due to the beneficiaries,” he adds noting that BIMA’s recent successful claim was by the beneficiary of a police officer.
To bolster confidence, BIMA is also big on education.
“Some people are not aware about what an insurance is. They just think of it as cost, not as protection against uncertainties and is most needed by the most vulnerable sector of the society,” he adds. Aside from municipalities, they also engaged cooperatives in their education campaign.
“It is a testament we are able to deliver our promise,” he says.
Agents have certain guidelines to follow when they talk with clients over the phone or via landline to ensure quality and to get the message across. A digital video call can also be conducted after if necessary or clients can drop by at their office in Ortigas to further build their confidence.
So far, they are the only insurance firm in the country that operates solely on mobile technology. He, however, expects players to move towards the digital technology to reach the masses, where the demand is.
By combining the power of mobile technology, key partnerships with mobile operators, and a human approach to education, BIMA has been able to achieve scale and profitability. The Swedish insurtech startup was valued at $300 million as of 2018.
Melvin believes that good education is his best chance at parity in a world that is getting more and more competitive. With that, he plotted for an international MBA degree. After saving some money from his previous job with local banks, he sent himself to HEC in Paris for an MBA degree. It was expensive, but it was all worth it.
“I find EU schools are very international oriented,” says Melvin noting that his class alone at HEC Paris was composed of 40 different nationalities.
“When there is diversity, you get different perspectives not only from professors but from each other,” adds the 33-year-old leader, who finished his IT undergrad degree at the San Beda University.
“So, when we discussed a topic, the discussions are richer and more valuable. HEC also implements practical application of business models of their students,” he adds.
Since HEC Paris is one of the world’s leading MBA institutions, multinational companies recruit their managers from his school, making it the highest number of graduates working in MNCs globally. BIMA was among those that advertise their position for the Philippines. Melvin grabbed the opportunity and took the position after graduation.
According to Melvin, his drive for better education was instilled by his parents. “Nobody can take it away from you and it is a privilege so education is very important,” he adds.
“My MBA gave me openings to lots of different perspectives and best practices to run a company,” he adds.
Melvin understands fully well that the very element in the insurance business is the promise of benefits in the future. He has learned to make clients at the core of their operations.
“We promise that when an unfortunate event happens, we are there to help the family financially so we work hard to make sure we keep our promise and work hard on trust worthiness as a company,” says Melvin.
The Paris-educated business executive shares the limelight with his team. He would conduct team assessment and their individual strengths. An assessment of strengths is critical for business development. He also makes himself available for consultation.
“I would allow them to shine based on their own right,” says Melvin, who became the youngest bank branch manager of the country’s leading bank at the age of 25. “I had to work twice as hard because people trusted me and I don’t want to lose their trust and lose face,” adds Melvin, who had been to 27 countries with Egypt still in his bucket list.
To release all tensions from a day’s hard work, Melvin loves the company of his Siberian Husky for long walks in BGC.
Melvin would like BIMA to become the top insurance provider in the Philippines. There are also opportunities for expansion in related areas like payment solutions and more simple and affordable products.
“Being a young company is very exciting. As an insurtech startup, no day is the same as we continue to build our business with partners to further improve our efficiencies,” adds the still single Melvin.
It is still early days, but Melvin has already proven some level of success. He, however, said he would consider success only when he is closer to his goals and social purpose.
BIMA’s mission is to protect the future of every family in a world where billions of people are not protected against life’s biggest financial and health risks. BIMA believes every human being should have access to a safety net for their families, regardless of the country they are born into.
Harnessing the power of mobile, Melvin commits to deliver their promise of protection coverage to the underserved in emerging markets.