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By Alison Buckholtz and Caitríona Palmer, IFC Communications

Even as a child, Sherill Quintana thought like an entrepreneur: at age nine, she taught her siblings and friends to sell candy to the other kids in their neighborhood in the Philippines, offering commissions to her pint-sized personnel. Her hunger for business continued to grow, and after her university degree and some work experience she founded Oryspa, a retail health and wellness brand. Though it’s grown steadily, with franchises and distributors in the Philippines, Myanmar, and Vietnam, Quintana wasn’t so sure Oryspa would survive when her bank shut down in 2008. The company’s insurance was “a life-saver,” protecting the business she’s worked so hard to nurture, Quintana says.

She’s not alone in recognizing the value of insurance after a crisis. Insurance can help women create a buffer that protects businesses and families from economic shocks—whether from international recessions, health emergencies, or weather-related catastrophes.

But while the global insurance industry is expanding across emerging markets, women—including entrepreneurs—have largely been overlooked. Without access to insurance, they often resort to selling assets or taking loans to cover health-care costs or pay for other expenses, hurting their ability to recover from setbacks. Another part of the challenge, according to Quintana, is that women look at insurance “as an expense rather than an investment.” In Quintana’s experience, however, “Insurance plays a vital role for women entrepreneurs because it helps them have security and manage their risk.”

Now, an insurance program tailored specifically to women’s needs is helping them achieve their personal and professional goals. IFC’s Women’s Insurance Program, created with support from the governments of Canada and Japan, as well as the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), helps insurers design solutions that improve the financial security of women in emerging markets. The Women’s Insurance Program is active in Nigeria and the Philippines and just launched in Ghana and Cameroon.

Women’s Unique Insurance Needs

The women’s market represents a commercial opportunity for insurance companies. Women are likely to be more profitable clients for inclusive insurers, just as they have proven to be in the microcredit industry. Part of the explanation is straightforward: despite persistent gender wage gaps, women earn and own more than ever before.

As their global purchasing power increases, the business case for tapping into the women’s insurance market grows even stronger. By 2030, insurance companies are expected to earn up to $1.7 trillion from women—half of that in just 10 emerging economies, according to a 2015 study by IFC, AXA Group, and Accenture. (A large portion of this number is expected to come from women who own small- and medium-enterprises.)

In general, women face a variety of risks that are different from men’s and could be well-served by insurance. For example, women’s risks are shaped by longer life expectancies, pregnancy, and childbirth. They are more likely to be self-employed and to be in the informal economy. Women often own fewer assets because of inheritance laws, restrictions on land ownership, and divorce practices, which tend to favor men.

Shifting Perceptions

These gaps in women’s financial security inspired IFC to launch a pilot program in Nigeria with insurer AXA Mansard. The company introduced training for female and male insurance agents and staff to better understand the women’s insurance market and tailor products for female customers.

“The training uncovered a lot of unconscious bias,” says Marieme Esther Dassanou, who leads IFC’s work on advancing women’s inclusion in the insurance and financial sectors. “In some cases, agents—both men and women—were not reaching out to female customers because they assumed women didn’t have decision-making power within their families. Realizing the potential of the women’s insurance market really helped shift perceptions.”

Results of the pilot program in Nigeria speak for themselves. Upon its completion, AXA Mansard boosted its portfolio of women clients by 52 percent, and the company reported a 56 percent increase in gross written premiums from its women’s portfolio.

A Step Toward Sustainable Economic Development

Insurance for women is also the focus of IFC’s work with Insular Life, the largest Filipino-owned insurance company. With IFC’s support, Insular Life embarked on a process in 2017 to better understand the needs of its women customers—a first step in developing products that addressed their requirements. In the past year, IFC and Insular Life have also collaborated on workshops on gender sensitivity.

The in-depth look at Insular Life’s women clients revealed that the company’s products didn’t address the risks inherent in different stages of women’s lives. The findings also revealed that a large number of women in the Philippines lack knowledge of proper saving, investing, and risk protection. It became clear, in addition, that women put others’ needs before their own.

“We found that women in the Philippines buy insurance for their children, their siblings, and their parents before they buy for themselves,” says Noemi G. Azura, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Insular Life.

Now, Insular Life is developing women’s insurance solutions with specific coverage, bundling of products, and customized add-on services. As in Nigeria, Insular Life is training both women and men agents to have an increased awareness of their women customers’ needs.

“As a Philippine financial institution that has been serving the Filipinos for 108 years, we are keen to contribute to the financial inclusion agenda for women in our country,” says Nina D. Aguas, Executive Chairwoman of Insular Life. “We will provide protection and risk mitigating solutions to women along with investment opportunities. Subsequently, this will help them survive a loss of income or an unforeseen event.”

Insurance offerings can make a significant impact beyond women and their families—they strengthen sustainable economic development around the world, according to a report from The Women and Inclusive Insurance Project. Equally important, insurance for women protects the gains of many other development agendas, such as poverty alleviation, employment generation, agricultural development, food security, health, and social protection.

Join the conversation: #Invest4Tomorrow

Published in April 2019