Here Finance Monthly takes a look at the work of Richard Leftley and the ins and outs of micorinsurance in the emerging markets. Richard began working in the sector in January 2002 and pioneered the introduction of insurance products within the Opportunity Network, which led to the establishment of the Micro Insurance Agency, subsequently rebranded MicroEnsure.
‘Emerging consumers face the highest level of risk, but have the least access to insurance. MicroEnsure creates innovative solutions to meet this untapped demand and expand insurance protection on an unprecedented scale.’
What does the typical day in the office look like for you? What are the challenges of being the CEO of the world’s leading micro insurance company?
My working life is split roughly 50/50 between being at the head office in the UK and working in emerging markets. When oversees, my focus is on working with our partners around the world to design new products and develop new distribution partnerships.
Within MicroEnsure, I lead our work on developing new business and much of my travel is therefore focused on negotiating new opportunities in Asia and Africa. There are also trips that focus on fixing a major issue or perhaps presenting at a conference or working with regulators and others to shape the future of the industry.
What were MicroEnsure beginnings and how did it develop into the company that it is today?
In 2001, I participated in a two-week volunteer trip to Zambia with the microfinance organization Opportunity International which changed the direction of my career.
My trip to Zambia was to learn about the financial realities experienced by low-income consumers, and during the course of the trip, I met a lady who explained her life was like a game of “Chutes & Ladders” and she challenged me to help her reduce the financial effect of unexpected events such as natural disasters, sickness or even a funeral.
This was the spark that started MicroEnsure; the ability to provide a safety net to stop people falling back into poverty following an unexpected event in their lives.
In 2016 alone, MicroEnsure attracted 20 million new opted-in customers in just 148 days, raising the total number of registered customers to 42 million.
What motivates you most about your role and providing insurance solutions to the low and middle income market?
The thing that motivates me most is spending time with our clients, I never come away without having learnt something and challenged about my view of the world.
I remember visiting a family living in a slum of Dhaka, Bangladesh and being told by the mother of how she had gone to the Government hospital seeking help for her sick child. She waited days and yet no doctor came and there were no drugs, with the child growing critically ill she went to a nearby mission hospital who would treat the child but needed a few dollars payment upfront.
The lady went home to sell possessions to raise the cash and when she returned her child had died. I recall weeping with the family over their loss and feeling so helpless, the experience spurned me on to work with the team to develop a health product that would work for low income families and today we have millions of people using our hospital cash products.
As a leader in the provision of insurance to the mass market in Africa and Asia, how are you currently lobbying or working towards the development of new insurance regulations or permissible strategies globally?
At MicroEnsure we work hard to foster close working relationships with the regulators because often our products dramatically increase insurance penetration in a country. Typically less than 5% of the population have access to insurance in countries we work in so when we come along and sign up millions of people to insurance for the first time the regulator notices and it’s important that we are on the front foot in terms of our relationship so they are comfortable about the model. It’s also important to work closely with the regulators because our products often include unique features such as few exclusions or no-age restrictions and it’s important to get the regulators behind these product features and clear on why they are necessary.
What have been your biggest achievements so far? What are you most proud of?
I think growing MicroEnsure to be a company that has signed up more than 43 million emerging consumers is my proudest achievement. I never imagined we would get that far and I am excited about the idea of getting to 100m people in the years ahead.