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Using Phones to Engage Customers with Insurance Products

CGAP recently concluded an Applied Product Innovation project with insurance intermediary MicroEnsure and design firm Continuum. MicroEnsure and mobile network operator Airtel have a partnership to deliver insurance to Airtel customers in 17 countries in Africa over the next three years. Our challenge: using human centered design techniques to figure out how to deliver relevant insurance products to the mass market, leveraging mobile phones. Watch our video or read through our presentation for an overview of the entire project. Read our first blog on delivering immediate value to insurance products through educational tips and advice.

Mobile phones in Africa are more than a functional tool. They are an essential asset. In our interviews with low-income people in Kenya and Malawi, we found that people have an emotional tie to their phone, as it represents a connection to distant family, a place to play games or listen to music and a way to get the latest news and follow posts on social media. The mobile phone is always within reach and it is often peoples’ most valuable possession, directly affecting their livelihood. A phone is also a financial tool that helps people run their businesses and keep track of financial transactions. Ethel and Cyrus are two people we met who place a great deal of value and importance on their mobile phones.
 
Insurance products, however, are not integrated into the everyday lives of people like Ethel and Cyrus. They are still unknown and distant to the mass market. Since most people don’t have insurance or know anyone else that has it, it’s hard to understand how or why it could be personally relevant. Using mobile phones to incentivize and empower people to share their knowledge with friends can help organically grow a social network around insurance. 
 
Ethel is 38 years old and lives in a 3-bedroom house outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. She is divorced and cares for her own three children as well as her sister’s two children and her aging mother. She works hard reselling plastic buckets that she buys in the city. Although she does not have much time to dedicate to fun activities, she does take moments throughout the day to relax. Her phone is her outlet. She uses it to conduct business and calculate payments. She also uses it to talk to friends on Facebook and play games. Her phone allows her to grab a few minutes to de-stress in an otherwise difficult and demanding life. Games are quick, they don’t cost much and they’re fun to play.
 
Ethel shows us the bag she keeps her phone in while working and her favorite game, Block’d. Photo Credit: Caitlin Toombs
 
Cyrus lives in a one-room apartment in Mathare, a Nairobi slum. He uses Facebook on his feature phone to read posts and update his status. These days, he also uses it to check out new products and services. He bought a t-shirt last week after his friend posted it on Facebook. In a place where word of mouth has long ruled marketing efforts, mobile phones are helping spread the word faster and farther than before. Facebook isn’t the only outlet. Although M-PESA is hugely popular and widely used, people still confirm their money transactions by SMS. It provides peace of mind. This trust network helps make unknown and new offerings feel more grounded and safe. People are using mobile phones as a networking tool to form communities beyond their neighbors and local savings groups. And they are using relatively simple feature phones. Anything with the ability to SMS or connect to Facebook is effective. 
 
 
Cyrus on the rooftop of his apartment in Mathare, a link from his Facebook page and an example of the “refer a friend” benefits we tested. Photo Credit: Caitlin Toombs
 
 
How can insurance tap into this connection with mobile phones?
 
In our project with MicroEnsure, we tested several different ways that insurance could take advantage of the mobile phone’s capabilities to engage with people more powerfully and effectively.  We did this with paper prototypes so we could focus on the content first. Using a variety of trivia games and choose-your-own-ending stories, we tested different gaming constructs to see which were more appealing and engaging for people. We also tested different incentives and benefits to understand where and how people felt comfortable sharing with others. We wanted to understand how people liked to engage with content on their phone as well as which types of games caused people to play over extended periods of time. 
 
One of our game prototypes: this is a health adaptation of the popular Snakes and Ladders game. Photo Credit: Caitlin Toombs 
 
 
Here are a few ways we found that insurance can connect with the mass market: 
  1. Provide Relevant Entertainment: Interactive games provide a much-needed break from the stress and effort of daily life. They can bring a sense of entertainment and pleasure to the serious undertaking of insurance. But they have to be connected to the topic at hand or they risk feeling irrelevant and even deceptive. Offering insurance integrated into games also provides new business model opportunities. People already pay for games so MicroEnsure can charge for the games and give the insurance product for ‘free.’ Or, they can offer free games as a way to connect and engage with customers and then offer insurance products at low prices. 
  2. Share Organically: Incentivizing people to share new products with people they know can help spread the benefits of insurance in a safe and secure way. Giving people easy ways to post things on Facebook can help them share the good things they find in life with others. Refer-a-friend programs can also give people free additional coverage if their Facebook friends sign up.
  3. Build Trust: Confirming people’s actions throughout the sign-up process helps build trust. Sending something as simple as an SMS to the next of kin allows people to verify their transactions with trusted family and friends. This adds confidence in the company and the product while spreading the word to the insurer’s community. 
  4. Microinsurance providers have understandably seized the opportunities poised by mobile money to allow easier payment of premiums and paying out of claims. However, the power of phones goes far beyond payments and financial providers of all types can use phones to make their offerings more engaging and trusted.
 
Watch the video for an overview of the project:
 

 

 

Topic: Customers

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