Startup snapshot: Opportunity and risk in Africa’s untapped insurance industry

South Africa-based Inclusivity Solutions is an insurtech startup that works with mobile operators, insurance companies and other distribution partners to deliver insurance solutions through digital channels to emerging consumers. Jeremy Leach, co-founder and CEO, answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Inclusivity Solutions is an inclusive insurtech focused on designing, building and operating digital insurance solutions for emerging consumers with mobile operators, banks and insurers.

2. How did you finance your startup?

Inclusivity Solutions was privileged to secure US$2.5m from Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) to support the initial company set up, along with the founders’ investment.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

Inclusivity Solutions has live products in three markets, Cotê d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Kenya. Additional funding would be used to generate growth and scale in these existing markets and support our pipeline opportunities with existing and new partners. Projects that we are prioritising include digital financial education initiatives, targeted upsell marketing campaigns, launches through our partner’s agents and continued enhancement of our core platform, ASPIN.

4. What risks does your business face?

Lack of consumer awareness and trust in insurance, exemplified by penetration levels of less than 2-5% of adults in almost all markets we are in. It is critical that we drive a consistent cadence of financial education and marketing activity for our services, including customer testimonials, on-the-ground activations, SMS marketing and advertising to keep our services relevant. All this needs to be supported by paying claims fast and publicly.

Regulation that limits or restricts our ability to function in market through a remote, digital platform is also an ever-present concern.

But underlying all these risks is partner risk – whilst insurance needs a ‘hero brand’ to offset the trust deficit that insurance has, it does mean that one has to manage the competing priorities and ‘frozen’ timelines of large corporates.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

It depends on how you are measuring marketing. So far SMS marketing has generated the most registrations (we now have over 350,000 registrations across all three markets growing at 51,000 per month). However, we also had a good response in terms of registrations and awareness to the initial on-the-ground activations that we initiated in Rwanda for the Airtel Tigo Ingoboka Cash service. Although radio and other above-the-line marketing has been conducted in the regions, the impact of these have been harder to track but are an important component of the promotional strategy.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

Like many entrepreneurs, the most exciting moments are linked to key stages of the venture – securing the funding to launch, handing out share certificates to the co-founders, securing the signed agreements with our key partners and of course the day the product finally goes from concept to launch.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what you’ve learnt from it.

Whilst we understood and recognised the challenge of the long sales cycle, it was still a complete shock how long it was in practice. In one instance it took over two years to get from an executive decision to go ahead, to actually launching the product; just approving the SMS product wording took four months. We are now much clearer around how we manage this risk.

We’ve also learnt some painful lessons when it comes to outsourcing core activities in the aim of frugal innovation, such as our platform, which resulted in a huge setback for us in the initial stages of the business. However, being forced to build our own platform has turned a nightmare into a delight.

8. In addition to your own company, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

We believe there is a huge opportunity for insurtech solutions that address business process challenges for insurance providers in Africa. We are working in a joint venture on a claims automation product called MALCOLM, which we think has the potential to generate great efficiencies and reduce fraud for insurers operating in Africa as well as opening up the market for non-life insurance for the low and mass market to include motor, property and agricultural insurance.