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Bridging the healthcare protection gap with mobile tech

30 November 2021

Insurance and health products are often beyond the reach of people in emerging markets. Mathilda Ström, Deputy CEO of BIMA, explains how smartphones and mobile wallets can protect consumers who lack insurance or access to high-quality healthcare.

Mobile technology can break down barriers and deliver products and services that were previously unavailable to many people. This is particularly so when it comes to banking and finance for everyday needs, which is a serious challenge in large parts of the world.

“Financial exclusion is a global issue,” says Ström, “and it has a big impact on insurance and healthcare. If you’re on a very low income and excluded from traditional banking and payment structures, it’s difficult if not impossible to find insurance and health products that are affordable and easy to access.”

However, thanks to BIMA (Swahili for insurance) there is an innovative solution that can bridge the protection gap for more than a billion people in emerging markets. Founded in Sweden in 2010, BIMA uses fintech to promote healthcare by harnessing the power and reach of mobile payments. Moreover, it also provides access to a range of health benefits on top of this mobile platform.

Affordable insurance and healthcare on demand

Ström says that BIMA is based on a simple premise: that everyone should have protection against financial and health risks, regardless of their life circumstances or where they live. “We’ve built a microinsurance model on the strength of frictionless mobile payments,” she says. “Now, for the first time, affordable insurance is easily available to everyone across Asia and Africa, and other regions with high mobile penetration can also benefit.”

Microinsurance protects low-income individuals and households and is designed for areas where there is unmet need, thus helping large populations in emerging markets. Ström says that low-income typically means less than USD 10 per day and that those who fall into this category would normally be unable to afford standard insurance policies for illness, injury, or death.

Connectivity and cost efficiency

So, how does BIMA fill the void? It’s all down to the connectivity and flexibility of mobile technology, says Ström. BIMA customers use their phones to pay for cover through pre-paid airtime, post-paid monthly bills, or mobile money wallets. Because emerging markets have a high level of mobile penetration, and smartphones offer simple, frictionless payments, it means there is a ready-made platform for insurance and health services.

“We’re neither a telecom company nor an insurance company,” says Ström. “Instead, we’re a link between the two. We bring providers together and create the infrastructure for cost-effective and frictionless payments. Traditional insurers can’t reach our demographic because the up-front costs and banking requirements are prohibitive for people with few resources, but mobile pay-as-you-go accounts make it simple and affordable. We now have around 25 million active users, and 75% have never taken out insurance before.”

BIMA’s payment plans are flexible and aligned with their customers’ income patterns – daily, weekly, or monthly. Basic insurance costs around 20-80 US cents per month, which makes it affordable for most families. Ström adds that customer experience was a key consideration: “We wanted to make registration as simple as possible,” she says. “Customers can sign up in minutes, and there’s no paperwork or hidden costs. And we stay in touch through customers’ preferred channels, such as apps, SMS, voice response systems, and social media.”

The power of partnership

Mobile technology is the engine in the BIMA model – and partnerships help to power it. BIMA collaborates with:

  • mobile money providers
  • mobile operators
  • many different insurers
  • a growing local sales force, trained by BIMA, which provides a personalised service

Hannover Re is included in the partnership equation, helping to support BIMA’s international expansion. BIMA can access Hannover Re’s global network and obtain local pricing and market expertise, as well as regulatory compliance knowledge. 

More than microinsurance

What makes BIMA so compelling is its ability to bundle services through a mobile platform. “In addition to insurance for life, personal accident and hospitalisation, we provide an all-in-one family health programme,” says Ström. “It includes health screening, 24/7 tele-medicine services, and access to specialist doctors – all at the touch of a button. We provide our customers with a holistic approach to healthcare through prevention and management of health conditions, personalised health programmes, and clinical pathways developed to global standards.”

In just 10 years, BIMA has come a long way and helped millions of people who would otherwise be denied access to insurance and healthcare. Ström describes it as a winning example of collaboration built on a scalable technology base. Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 has underlined the value of mobile delivery and remote health services for those who are most in need.  

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