Accessible Insurance for All – A Conversation with MicroEnsure’s Richard Leftley

MicroEnsure’s origins date back in 2002 when its founder, Richard Leftley, started asking a simple question of traditional insurance companies – why is it that insurers only create products and services for the wealthy? He never got a good answer. Richard had seen the data on the impact that natural disasters had on human lives in emerging markets – there was clearly a mismatch between risk and access to insurance.

Years later, as mobile penetration in these markets increased, MicroEnsure stopped asking its clients three standard questions during the signup process (name, age, and next of kin) – and they signed up 20 million customers in 140 days! They now serve over 60 million customers, 80% of whom had never had insurance prior to MicroEnsure.

2:47 – On MicroEnsure’s distribution model.
5:48 – How can MicroEnsure not ask any questions of their customers? It comes down to the difference in traditional insurance products versus microinsurance.
7:23 – How MicroEnsure leverages its distribution partners to achieve requisite scale.
8:17 – Why MicroEnsure went straight to the partnership model as opposed to going direct to the consumer.
10:34 – How MicroEnsure leverages their partners’ brands and data to sell their products.
13:13 – Richard and Justin discuss misconceptions around customer education and the importance of very simple products.
14:54 – The changes to MicroEnsure’s business model and how they fit into the insurance value chain.
17:11 – Richard background and the origin story of MicroEnsure.
19:52 – MicroEnsure’s business in Africa and key considerations for expansion.
23:39 – Market size as a consideration and stories of their business in Malawi and Nigeria.
25:00 – The story of MicroEnsure moving from a non-profit, funded by a large grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to a for-profit, venture-backed company.
27:25 – After 20 years as an entrepreneur, Richard shares his general advice for entrepreneurs.

Richard: And those interactions on the way to the lift at the end of the meeting, I would just ask this simple question, why is it that you only focus on the wealthy? Why is it that you’re only selling insurance to the wealthiest 3% of the population? 

Justin: That’s Richard Leftley, the Founder and CEO of MicroEnsure.

Richard: And I never actually got a good answer. There was never really any clear picture of why that was.

Justin: MicroEnsure, as the name suggests, is a microinsurer serving nearly 60 million customers in the developing world, 80% of whom have never had insurance before. The company was started back in 2002 when Richard recognized the mismatch.

Richard: And that combined with just the statistics that would come out at once every year from Swiss Re, that would look at kind of the cost in terms of human life and in dollars of various natural disasters. And there was always a mismatch where the most expensive natural disaster was in a developed country like the US, and the most expensive in terms of human life was in a low income country like Bangladesh. And it just became really evident to me that there was this massive mismatch between the risks that people faced and their access to insurance. And so I started to question why that was.

Justin: Richard and MicroEnsure’s 20 year journey is an instructive one. Not only because of MicroEnsure’s scale, I mean 60 million customers, but because MicroEnsure started by asking a simple question and then the company group by figuring out how to get products or services into the hands of mass market consumers by capitalizing on existing user behavior. And it grew its revenues by figuring out how to collect payments for those products as frictionlessly as possible.

Our discussion with Richard runs the gamut, including the innovative distribution and partnership model that allows MicroEnsure to insure the most at risk individuals over the world for a fraction of a penn; why scale matters for their type of business; how they’ve expanded their products and services across Africa; the lessons learned from the mistakes the company has made; and, some general advice for other entrepreneurs who are on a similar journey to the one Richard started 20 years ago. In such a nascent ecosystem, Richard’s experience makes him an invaluable resource for another special episode of The Flip. And as we continue to work on our regular editorial-style episodes for season two, we’re incredibly excited to share this full length conversation with you.

So without any further ado, the CEO of MicroEnsure Richard Leftley.

VO: You’re listening to The Flip – the podcast, exploring more contextually relevant stories from entrepreneurs around Africa.

Justin: I know that MicroEnsure takes a very interesting distribution and customer acquisition model. So can you speak to how all of this came together from a distribution perspective? 

Richard: Yeah. So I mean, the challenge of putting insurance into people’s hands is a distribution challenge. It’s not a supply side issue. So insurance companies have existed in these markets for decades. They’ve been there for tens of years, and yet they don’t serve the man  on the street. And so it’s very clear from the work that we’ve done that there are really four missing components. So every market that we’ve worked in, we’ve come across these four missing components.

And these are firstly that, you know, insurance products need to be simplified down to their bare bones. You need to be able to explain the products in say, three or four simple sentences, not on 20 sheets of paper like we experienced in the UK, in the US. Secondly, that these products need to have these extremely simple digital customer journeys. So, you know, we need to take away all of the complexity of signing up for and using these insurance products. I sometimes think that we’re competing not with AIG or AXA, but in fact with apathy. And if you make it too difficult for people to sign up for insurance, then their default position is just to say no, you know, we can’t be bothered. And so, you know, for us, when we really understood this, we came to realize that actually many of our clients couldn’t be bothered to actually complete the three basic questions of what’s your name, what’s your age, and what’s  the name of your dependent or your next of kin. And when we got rid of those three questions, we signed up 20 million customers in 140 days. So, you know, it’s just a really clear articulation that, you know, the customer journey of how I sign up and use your product is critical in whether or not I’m willing to do so. So simple products, simple customer journeys. And then I guess the third thing we found was that there was kind of missing IT. So insurance companies just don’t have really solid IT. And then the finally is the mindset where, you know, you need to get claims paid same day or next day really. These are people that don’t have any money, so they can’t read this dip into their savings once they wait for the insurance to come through. 

And so we’re distributing products here that costs somewhere in the region of between say 3 cents to a dollar a month. They are arrange of life, accident and kind of hospitalization insurance products that always distributed through an organization like for example, a microfinance bank or traditional bank or a mobile phone company and the critical components of that distribution partnership are that the distribution partner needs to have a lot of clients, firstly. Secondly, it needs to be frequently used. So interestingly, what we discovered was that the more often that you use a kind of company, the more you trust them. So the reason that people trust their mobile phone company in Africa is because you’re topping up small amounts of airtime on a regular basis and whenever you buy that top up, it just works. And then so you have every reason to believe that that company will be a good partner for you. And then finally, the ability to process payments is really essential, which is missing because most people don’t have credit cards or bank accounts.

Justin: Yeah. So we’ve got a couple of questions off of that, but the first one is perhaps a stupid one, just because I don’t actually know anything about insurance. If you can cut away all of the questions and only sign somebody up knowing minimal information about them, why do other insurers make the process so much more laborious?

Richard: Yeah. I don’t know very much about insurance either, but let me take a stab at trying to answer that for you. So traditional insurance versus microinsurance, the reason that there’s a lot of questions that traditional insurance companies ask, is it all linked to this kind of idea of the law of large numbers? So, if we were sitting together having a beer, and I took a coin out my pocket and I said to you, ‘Hey, if I flip this coin, would you, would you bet me that it’s five heads or five tails?’ You’d be pretty brave to bet that it would be five heads or five tails. But if you flip the coin a million times, the chance of it being half a million heads and a half million tails greatly increases. You know, with traditional insurance, you have a relatively small number of people that are buying insurance and they’re buying insurance for a relatively large amount of money. So if you expect that, if you insure 10 people, that one of them is going to die. Yeah. But if they’re all insuring their lives for $1 million, and in fact two of them die, then you have to pay out $2 million rather than $1 million and suddenly that has a massive effect on your outcome for the year, right? Whereas if you’ve got a million people and they’re insuring their life for $100 and you expect that 100,000 of them will die, if actually 100,001 die, it won’t actually make that much of a difference. And so it’s the same concept – when you’re just dealing with a lot of people and a low sum insured, you can actually start to take out a lot of these unnecessary questions because the law of large numbers takes over.

Justin: You mentioned a little bit earlier as well that your distribution partners need to have a lot of clients. So is that the reason why it’s just that this sort of model works best at scale or at a certain scale?

Richard: Yeah. Scale  is absolutely critical. So you have to have a scale because basically what you’re doing is you’re selling a one size fits all insurance, right? You’re selling a baseball cap, you’re not selling bespoke suit. And actually that’s a great analogy. Traditional insurance is you go and you buy a bespoke suit. You know, microinsurance is really just a one size fits all and in order to do that, you need a lot of people that are the same kind of size in order to do two things – one is to give you that kind of lower of large numbers, that kind of statistical stability, but also because the amount of money that someone like MicroEnsurer is going to make when we sell a 3 cent policy or a 5 cent policy is really tiny. And so we need to group together large numbers of people in order to cover our costs associated with launching these products.

Justin: It’s interesting, I mean, you see now a lot of startups, you know, fintechs in particular building out their own agent networks, are doing their own agent recruitment as well. But it sounds like you, MicroEnsure, went straight to the partnership route without building out, you know, the sort of agent network infrastructure that others have built or are building. So was it clear just from the beginning that to build that level of infrastructure from an acquisition perspective was just not the way forward and that you had to leverage these companies with existing networks and who were already transacting with your intended customer?

Richard: Yeah, that’s actually a really good question and really insightful. You’re right, that actually, to begin with, we were entirely a B2B player, right? So we were partnering with organizations and they owned the customers, they owned the payments  network and our job was to provide just the product and the kind of backend service. But actually that model also had a weakness, and the weakness was that we were too open to being disintermediated. We were too open to being cut out of the mix. And we actually did look at whether or not, you know, there was something in we were missing, you know, the other fintechs that actually got it right and maybe, you know, we’d missed a trick. And so we did actually deploy field agents and, and we very quickly learned that in fact deploying agents in the field just was not going to be sustainable for insurance. I think it is probably for other financial services like loans and savings accounts, because the value of, if you take a $300 loan and so you know the, the cost of the agent is irrelevant when you’re thinking about a $300 line, which is the typical kind of loan amount for a microfinance bank, but it’s not, you know, we’re selling a financial service where the premium is 3 cents or 5 cents or 10 cents and therefore, you know, it’s a very different order of magnitude and it doesn’t actually work and kind of having boots on the street. What we did do though, was that we found a middle ground where we started to use call centers. And so we are actually quite heavily invested in the call center model. And so we use call centers now, which seems to be kind of a kind of happy middle ground, gives us scale that we need and enables us to sell these kind of very simple products. So each agent typically is calling about a hundred people a day. It depends on the product and it depends on the nature through which the premiums are collected, but we seem to be able to make somewhere between five and 15 sales per agent per day. So it’s quite a productive channel for us. 

Justin: Yeah. And is the nature of the transaction – so in MicroEnsure, trying to focus on the best possible customer journey – does that also then have an impact or reduce the necessity for  a face-to-face transaction or agent and it allows you to lean more heavily on your distribution partners because it’s such a easy type of transaction?

Richard: So I guess what we’ve learned is that no one wakes up wanting to buy insurance, right? So if you contact someone to say, Hey, would you like to buy insurance? The answer is going to be no. Especially if you call them from a brand that they’ve never heard of. So if I call them from MicroEnsure, say, ‘Hey, I’m calling you from MicroEnsure. Would you like to buy insurance?’ The answer is going to be no like from 99.9% of people. However, if I call someone and I say, ‘Hey, I’m calling you from so-and-so mobile phone company, or I’m calling you from so-and-so bank, or I’m calling you from Uber’, or whatever is that, you know, that the brand that people trust, then immediately I’ve got over that suspicion that I I’m a fraudster. So, you know, aligning ourselves with those brands helps a great deal, but then they would still say no if I said, ‘Hey, I’m calling you from Vodafone, or whatever the mobile phone company is, would you like to buy insurance?’ The answer would still be no. And so what we actually do is we use a lot of data and we track, for example, that, okay, this client has just you know, pay their school fees using their mobile wallet. And so we would then call up the client and say, ‘Hey, I’m calling you from the mobile phone company, seeing that you just pay the school fees. What would happen to your child if you lost your job because you had an accident or you got sick or whatever. Right? Would you like us to continue paying your school fees?’ To the, which the answer is yes, absolutely. So I’m not selling insurance. What I’m doing is I’m using the brand and my partner and that data to be able to identify, okay I’m calling you from a brand that you trust and I’m addressing a risk that you do in fact, lie in bed at night worrying about right. Cause no one wakes up wanting to buy insurance. But these people, they do lie in bed at night worrying, okay, if I lost my job, if I couldn’t work, then you know, how would my kids go to school? And so when someone presents them with a really easy way of addressing that risk, which they don’t have to fill out any forms, they don’t have to go to some office and make a payment, rather the premium can be collected seamlessly from their mobile phone account every day in a small installment. So, you know, a fraction of a penny every day can be deducted from their time balance, it’s easy as anything. All they have to do is say yes. Then the take up rate for that kind of a product, and that’s what I mean by these kinds of seamless, frictionless customer journeys. You know, you make it that easy to sign up that the people just say, yeah, okay, let’s do it. 

Justin: And given this model, again, I think sort of a misconception, or I guess I’m interested in your opinion on this, is the education process for certain customers that you’re serving. Can you speak to that? I mean, you just made it sound like a very simple and seamless process, but what is that like the education process around insurance and around other types of products that MicroEnsure sells?

Richard: Yeah. So I also had that misconception. I never thought, you know, for example, call centers would work, right? And, and what’s amazing is the average length of a phone calls about three minutes. So when you get down to a product, which is incredibly simple, it’s actually very easy to explain. And when you link it to a life event, like would you like me to continue paying  your could school fees, it’s actually very easy for people to understand why they need the product.

And actually what we’ve discovered is that – we tried a lot of things around client education. So we tried, you know, comic books. We tried, you know, radio slots, community radio stations. We even put actors into the marketplaces and got them to act out fake scenarios of making a claim so that people kind of stand around and listen in and watch. And all of those completely failed. Right? And then what we found was that the only way of educating people was to actually get them to use insurance. And when they use insurance, they tell their friends and say, ‘Hey, I have this insurance. And it worked. And the claim got paid quickly and it was easy and painless.’ And when that happens in a community, everyone then just signs up themselves. We don’t even have to sell it. They just start to register themselves. So word of mouth in Africa and in Asia is incredibly powerful. And so the best way of educating consumers as to the benefits of these products and how they work is to actually get them to use them and get them to make claims.

Justin: And the other thing, I think that’s a general theme as well as this idea about like, are you a product or are you a business? Right? So while you figured out distribution and setting up the call centers, that’s really sounds to me like what’s been a critical enabler for your business as well as having so much more than just, you know, a frictionless product and signup process.

Richard: 20 years ago, I figured out that there were these four missing things, you know, like these simple products because simple customer journeys, the IT and the ability to pay claims quickly. And those four things haven’t actually changed in 20 years. What has changed is where we sit in the value chain and how we get paid. So, you know, we’ve been a broker, we’ve been a technology company, we’ve been a call center. You know, in the future, do we need to become an insurance company? And actually all of those are a response to the fact that as a business, we create a lot of value. We sense that we create a lot of value, but we really struggle to get paid for the value that we create.

And I think that’s true of a lot of startups, especially ones that are slightly disruptive in existing industries, is that people see them and they like what they’re doing and they want to partner with them, but they really don’t want to pay them very much because the existing value chain doesn’t really have a spot for them.

And it’s difficult, you know, even the junior managers can actually see that they need to partner with these organizations, but they can’t because the senior guys say, ‘well, it doesn’t fit into the matrix. It doesn’t fit into the way in which we do business.’ And so trying to find a 5% commission or a 10%  commissions is really difficult. And so that’s a big challenge, you know, as a startup, how disruptive do you need to be in order to capture some of the value that you create? 

Justin: Yeah. And is it about sort of business model innovation in that regard, and figuring out how to get paid for your service?

Richard: Well, yeah, for me, looking back, I wish I just become an insurance company because I thought that I would be able to convince the insurance companies that what I did was needed. And I think what I’ve experienced, so, you know, all these years, is that the insurance companies do in fact acknowledge that what I do is needed and so do the regulators and say to all the other people in the industry, but there’s still a reluctance to pay. And so there’s an inevitability that having answered the question, which is do I add value and am I needed and be convinced that myself and I think the industry is convinced of it, but still after 20 years struggling to get paid enough money for the value that we create, then you end up saying, ‘okay, then let me play by your rules. Let me become what you guys are in order to get paid properly.’ 

Justin: Can you take us back to the origin story of MicroEnsure? Can you take us back to a problem that you are solving at its origins? 

Richard: Yeah, sure. So 2001 I was 29 years old. I was working in the city of London as a reinsurance broker. And I think a couple of things really – one was that I took a kind of look at the people around me who were the next step up for me on in terms of my career and I thought, you know, I don’t really want to look like these people. Not just physically, but I mean, just like in terms of what were they were setting out to achieve and what they wanted to do with their lives. And that combined with just the statistics that would come out once every year from Swiss Re, that would look at the cost in terms of human life and in dollars of there is natural disasters. And there was always a mismatch where the most expensive natural disaster was in a developed country like the US and the most expensive in terms of human life was in a low income country like Bangladesh. And it just became really evident to me that there was this massive mismatch between the risks that people faced and their access to insurance. And so I started to question why that was. I was in a unique position. I was a reinsurance broker. I was the guy who went into the executive teams of these insurance companies and  had to then can help them lay off their risk. And those interactions, during those interactions, you know, on the way to the lift at the end of the meeting, I would just ask this simple question, ‘why is it that you only focus on the wealthy? Why is it your only selling insurance to the wealthiest 3% of the population?’ And I never actually got a good answer. There was never really any clear picture of why that was. And so an opportunity came up for me at the end of 2001 beginning in 2002 to go and spend some time in Zambia, living with his family. And a final piece of the picture then fell into place for me where this lady, she was very poor, she had one set of clothes in rural Zambia, and she had been poor and then she had come middle-class. She’d actually become a school teacher, and her husband was a security guard and they lived in the capital city and you know, living in an apartment with a motorbike. And here she was back in the village with nothing. And the more I delved into it, the more I realized that, you know, her husband had got sick and that had caused them to spend their, whatever savings they had. And then when he died, they spent the rest of the money on his funeral and here they were back in the village. And she explained her life a little bit, like a game of chutes and ladders, or snakes and ladders for those in the UK and Europe. And she explained to me that basically, you know, she’s just trying to work her way out of poverty. And from time to time, these bad things came along and caused her to slip back into poverty. And her challenge to me was the kind, I know you can’t stop these things happening, but when they do, is there some way that we can try and minimize the effect of the cost of these events? And of course that’s, that’s where insurance comes in. It’s a safety net. 

Justin: I believe I read somewhere that MicroEnsure is in 10 countries in Africa. Is that correct? 

Richard: I think it was correct. Our model is to go into these markets quickly and where it doesn’t work to get back out. I mean, today in Africa, we’re very focused on Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania as being really significant growth markets that we see a huge upside in.

Justin: Is there a correlation to mobile money penetration and the success of MicroEnsure in those markets? 

Richard: So mobile money is definitely important. But ironically, for example, in Kenya, which has the highest mobile money penetration, as you know, for through M-Pesa, it actually is the hardest because M-Pesa is so dominant that they really don’t want to partner with any one particular organization. So they want to just be a platform that people can kind of use, and actually, what we found is that that isn’t optimal. So actually, Kenya, a lot of the work we’re doing is with banks and with other organizations like ride hailing organizations that have their own wallets and we don’t actually work so much with M-Pesa. I mean, if you call someone up and say, ‘Hey, would you like to buy insurance?’ and then you ask them to go to a third party wallet like M-Pesa or to pay the number of people that will do that is very, very small. So it needs to be a kind of seamless, you know? So once you’ve got them on the phone, whilst you’re making the sale, there needs to be the ability to take the payment real time without getting them to open an app or do something different. So we found that we have to find an organization that has that kind of payment mechanism baked in. 

Justin: And so as it relates to expansion and looking at the set of criteria or parameters required for a market to work, what sorts of things are you looking at? Is there like a checklist or certain criteria that each market needs to satisfy before you make a decision to even consider it for expansion?

Richard: Yeah, we’ve learned just a lot over the years about what you need in a market in order to make it work. And certainly kind of having a large number of organizations or a set of organizations that are willing to partner with you, who have a lot of clients who are trusted because they use frequently and who have a payments mechanism baked in, that’s a kind of like absolute minimum requirement, right? But then having a kind of functioning insurance market. So, you know, we’ve looked at markets like DRC, for example, in a Democratic Republic of Congo. Very, very big market, very underserved, in many ways quite an exciting market but they just don’t have a functioning insurance market, so it’s just a no go. You also need a kind of regulator who’s willing to work with you because some of what we’re doing is really pushing the boundaries. Right? So the most successful products that we’ve launched have been ones where we had to go to the regulator and say, ‘look, this has never been done before, we don’t know if it’s going to work. There are risks associated with it.’ In some markets, the regulators is terrified by that. In some markets, the regulator recognizes that their job is to do two things – one is to protect the consumers and one is to grow the market. And  those two kind of objectives are actually sometimes to be held intention. So, you know, allowing people I MicroEnsure to try to do things could be risky because it could all blow up, but it could also be fantastic because it might actually result in lots of people getting insurance. You know? I mean. We signed up more than 60 million clients to insurance. More than 80% of those have never had insurance before. So in some ways, we’re like ticking a lot of boxes for these guys, but it is a risk. And, and so, you know, in countries like Ghana, in countries like Kenya, we found that the regulators are really, really willing to work with us and to kind of let us try things. And the more they’ve let us do that, we try to do it very openly, we’ve shared with them what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. We’ve never tried to hide from them when we have a failure. In many ways the failures are more interesting than the successes, you know, because actually helps you to learn. And I think the regulators, when the regulators realize that, I mean, I think regulators are great at kind of like punishing failures and actually the most progressive regulators realize now that that isn’t the right way to do it.

Justin: Do you look at market size as a consideration as well? I mean, you mentioned the DRC. How do you look at it from a market size perspective, given the products that you’re selling? 

Richard: Yeah, market size is important. We were in Malawi and had a nice profitable business, you know, it was going just fine. It’s the fourth poorest country in the world. It’s a really difficult place to do business, and so we decided to do was, rather than continue to grow that business, we actually sold it to the local team. But at the same time, we also decided to leave Nigeria, which I think surprised a lot of people. And the reason for that is because it is a huge market, but as things stand at the moment, it’s a market which is almost impossible to serve with these insurance products. There’s a lot of uncertainty as to who regulates what. So the insurance regulator is fighting with the central bank who’s fighting with the telco regulator. And so there’s a lot of uncertainty as to who you need to get permission from, and therefore everything is kind of like just stuck. And so, you know, we took the view that Nigeria is going to be, is probably the most exciting market in the world right now, but it’s just not ready to go, and we’d rather wait a few years and let some other people with a lot of money. And then if we’re the second or the third or the fourth player in there, still be play a room for us. But you don’t need to be the first one. So we’d rather focus on other markets where, where we are getting a lot of traction right now, grow the business, and then, you know, when Nigeria opens up and it’s ready, then we’ll be ready to go.

Justin: Yeah. And in discussing growth opportunities and growth potential, I mean, I think that that’s a good segue. I remember also reading that MicroEnsure previously was non-profit and you had a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but then you made a decision some years later to take in equity financing and become a for profit business. So can you speak to the set of considerations around doing that and why you need it to be a for-profit business to serve your customers best? 

Richard: Sure. I mean, you’ve got to remember, I set this thing up in February, 2002 that’s nearly 19 years ago now. I mean, that was a long, long time before FinTech and InsureTech and that was a long time before mobile phones were really even that prevalent, right? You know, it was the height of the HIV epidemic, and we all had really tragic tasting clothes. So back then it wasn’t really an option to do it as a for-profit because selling insurance to people that had HIV was considered to be extremely bad idea. And so the only way to do it really was as part of microfinance movement with grant money from people like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And so that’s where we started, but in my mind, I was always a business person. I was always doing this and  I always believed in the power of the market and the power of capitalism. I mean, if someone’s willing to buy something, then they want it. And what we did was we started working in the microfinance movement and with microfinance organizations, that was fantastic. It gave us a huge amount of advantage and understanding the clients, in understanding what they wanted and gave us kind of soft money to be able to make a lot of mistakes with, frankly. So we spent, you know, those early years learning how to do this. And then, it really took off in about 2009 when we started to work with the mobile phone companies. But when it became clear that the mobile phone space was going to become really important to the growth of the microinsurance market, it became clear to us that we couldn’t continue to finance the business through grants, but instead we needed to get into the more commercial market because the speed at which we were going to have to open new countries, the speed at which we were going to have to make decisions when, you know, big partners like Telenor or AirTel said, ‘yes, we want to work with you, but we want to go really quickly and we want to open up all these markets’. We couldn’t wait for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as quick as they are and as wonderful as they are, we couldn’t wait for them to say yes. So we had to go get financed by debt and equity. But of course by chance, of course the volume that we were getting, you know, these millions of clients that were signing up actually made us then interesting to the investors. And so, and so those two things came together at the right time. 

Justin: I’m curious to know if you have any sort of general advice for the entrepreneurs who are building, you know, the things that you were building back in the early 2000s. Are there certain learnings or lessons that you have of especial importance for you to share to people who are going through their first or duration of the journey now?

Richard: Oh yeah. Yeah. There’s so many things I could share. I mean, I think we’ve failed more than we’ve succeeded. I think it’s really important to have a kind of mentality of however many times you get knocked down, are you really willing, do you have the right personality to kind of just keep getting up and when everyone else has kind of given up and gone home, are you willing to keep going? Especially if you want to do something like this, like selling insurance to people, which I think is, I mean, insurance is by far the hardest financial service. You know, everyone needs a loan. Everyone can understand a savings account, but insurance is just a really hard sell. If I had a magic wand and could go back 20 years, I’m, I kind of would I be telling myself not to not to do it. It’s really hard. 

The other mistake I see a lot of people and I think a lot of people have learned this the hard way is that, we figured that if we just put our product on to the digital platforms, right, if we just put insurance onto mobile, that suddenly people would wake up and want to buy insurance. I look at that and I smile and I see it happen time and time and time again. You know, people think, Oh, well, you know, digital will fix all manner of ills. And I think the key thing there is that, look, you know, if no one wants to buy your product, just because it’s now digital doesn’t actually make any difference. So you gotta be really clear that, there’s still a lot of benefit in going to market with a kind of analog approach, working out whether people really want to buy your product and then, only then, kind of put it on digital. Because digital won’t fix it if it’s wrong. 

And then finally, I guess, you know, I think that the thing that I’ve really learned is the importance of the customer journey. I’ve seen examples of people succeed that have a terrible product, but a really clever customer journey, a really frictionless digital customer journey. And I’ve seen people fail that have an amazing product, but a really clunky friction-full customer journey. And so, you know, if you have to choose one of those two, then make sure you get the customer journey right and be ruthless about removing friction. And I just keep asking why. For me, I mean like, you know, we asked the question, well, why do you need to know people’s age? Right? And insurance committee said, well, because we don’t want to insure people that are older than 60 because they’re more likely to die. And it was like, well, but if I give you a million people, then they will probably reflect the average age of the country, which is 25 so, you know, like, do you still need me to ask everyone how old they are so that we can exclude three people out of a million? Or do you want a million people to sign up and accept that three of them are going to be like 90 years old? I think you just have to kind of change the way in which people do things, especially when you’re dealing with partners and don’t be afraid of asking him why? Why do you need stuff? 

Justin: I have this hypothesis that the next iteration of successful businesses and corporates across the continent will be people who just provide better customer experience.

Richard: I guess the one thing that insurance has got going for it is that our competition really sucks. And actually the thing that worries me most is that what we’ve done is we’re doing a better job than the incumbent, but like I wonder how hard it would be for someone else to come along and just do like a four times better job than what we’re doing because we’re setting ourselves up against, you know, what is a really low bar. So we’re clearing that bar and we’re doing good, but like, you know, for someone else to come along and what would they need to do to just be like four or five or 10 times better than what we’re doing. And I don’t think it would be that difficult. That’s, I guess the challenge ahead. 

Justin: And I think there’s room too.

Richard: Yeah. Well, look, there’s 97% of people don’t have insurance. That’s 4 billion people. So I’m not competing with anyone. Right? I mean, people often come to me and say, ‘Oh, you know, aren’t you worried about this or worried about that?’ I’m like, you know, ‘I’m pretty sure that we could spend the rest of my life doing this and we wouldn’t compete with anyone.’

VO: That’s it for this episode of The Flip. We’ll be back soon with our regularly produced themadic episodes for season two. In the meantime, if you’d like this episode or any other episodes, please do share with a friend or leave a rating and review on your favorite podcast app. So others can enjoy too, and don’t forget to follow us on social media for bite-size insights and other updates @TheFlipAfrica.

Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

 

Richard Leftley – Founder & CEO, MicroEnsure
Justin Norman – Founder & Host, The Flip
Audio Production by ZVUK Studio
Distributed by Simplecast

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