The recent typhoon disaster in the Philippines has left millions of people without access to basic food and shelter. Annalisa Bianchessi explains how micro insurance is supporting people and paying their claims.
Microinsurance has boomed in the Philippines over the last decade. With a population of 98 million, it has the highest insurance penetration rate in all of Asia and Oceania, with an estimated 19.9 million individuals and properties covered.
According to Dr. Antonis Malagardis, Programme Director of the GIZ Programme ‘Regulatory Framework Promotion of Pro-poor Insurance Markets in Asia’ (RFPI Asia), this success can be attributed both to the Philippines’ adoption of conducive legislation regulating its insurance market, “as well as the establishment of a network of effective distribution channels that can be easily accessed by low income people.”
Yet the challenges faced by clients and insurers in claims repayment, following a catastrophic event, are not to be underestimated. One can imagine the difficulty that people have to even provide the most basic documentation to insurers whilst they are left without a home, water, food and electricity.
Further, damage to infrastructure and communication channels often mean that it is difficult for clients to get information to the insurers, and for insurers to reach their clients.
Richard Leftley, CEO at MicroEnsure, a company that has 1.3m clients in the Philippines alone, says: “We are aware of over 50,000 claims for calamity related damage to property in the Philippines. However, we have no data on lost lives yet, due to poor communications with affected areas.”
At Ahon Sa Hirap (ASHI), a Filipino NGO and Microfinance Institution, which offers a wide range of financial services to clients, the organisation has taken a proactive approach to supporting clients with claims submissions.
The MFI, which counts 9 branches in the disaster struck Panay area, has sent out its agents, equipped with cameras, to help clients document claim and take picture of their houses.
Laarnie A. Aquino, one of the agents, reports that “the wide road is blocked due to the falling trees destroyed by the typhoon, and there are no electricity and telecommunication services in the area until now.”
The ASHI team was able to take pictures of a number of its clients’ damaged properties (see photo left) but eventually their camera ran out of battery, and, with no electricity in the area, they continued their documentation work with pen and paper alone. In total they were able to document damage to over 2,700 of their clients’ properties, with 700 properties completely destroyed.
Other insurers, based abroad, are taking a different approach by providing monetary grants to clients affected by the typhoon through local partners on the ground. For example, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Microfinance Foundation has announced that the Group Crédit Agricole SA will dedicate €1m to support rehabilitation work through one of its associations, providing rehabilitation on site.
When it comes to catastrophic risk, the sector is still at an early stage of development. “The business case for catastrophic risk still has to be proven; current experiences have not demonstrated the existence of a business case for the private risk carriers unless the public sector is involved to support the initiatives” says Clémence Tatin-Jaleran of the MicroInsurance Centre.
Beyond the business case, it is clear that for catastrophic risk products to be of true value to clients, the sector needs to come up with innovative ways to ensure clients are able to submit and receive their claims swiftly after such an event.
According to the 2012 World Disaster Report, the Philippines ranks as the third most disaster-prone country in the world, with an average of 20 typhoons per year. Since 2009 typhoon-related damages have totalled USD 2.5 billion: the poverty levels among farmers and fishermen remain three times higher compared to the rest of the population.
An example of a recently established partnership that aims to offer microinsurance tailored to farmers in the Philippines is that of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), and the Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corporation. The new partners will work together to design affordable insurance products for farmers against typhoon-related losses in the Philippines, allowing for risk mitigation for farmer clients of CARD, the largest MFI in the country.
The Microinsurance Network and its members believe that microinsurance is an essential component of sustainable development. “The importance of insurance is clearly evident by the typhoon that ravaged the Philippines “ stated Craig Churchill, Chairman of the Microinsurance Network and Head of the ILO’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility, during this year’s 9th International Microinsurance Conference.
“While you might argue that for catastrophes such as these, one needs macro insurance, not micro; I contend that they are in fact intimately related” he continued. “We need to dramatically expand access to better insurance services to build safety nets and enhance the resilience of low-income communities. And the development impact of insurance isn’t just seen at the household level, but also within the economy as a whole. By managing and diversifying risks, insurance supports entrepreneurs to make higher risk, and higher return investments, thus stimulating growth and bolstering economic development.”