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Financial inclusion? Not apps. Let them text 

September 19, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

Have you ever taken a jeepney at night, passed through the notorious crime‑ridden streets of the metro, and thought, “this is it, this is where I'm going to die?” How do you think Manong jeepney driver felt during that moment, or Aling streetsweeper in her barely fluorescent vest? As primary breadwinners of their respective families, they, too, must worry about what might happen to them in case of an emergency.

BIMA, a Swedish insurance tech player, knows the importance of bringing insurance and consumer education to emerging markets. Like most disruptive technologies, it is using the mobile phone.

But unlike the path that most tech companies have gone to—developing an app—BIMA went another way: it’s relying on text.

Taking into consideration how almost everyone in the Philippines has a cellphone with a dismal mobile internet speed, they created a system that works for the market it targets. In partnership with Smart Communications, Inc. and Pioneer Insurance, BIMA deducts ₱45 to ₱70 at most per month from cellular phone prepaid load to provide people with up to ₱210,000 insurance coverage.

“We want to adapt to the Philippine context,” BIMA country manager Lindsey Lim told SparkUp as other BIMA employees introduced their product at the Baranggay Center of Baranggay Wack‑wack. “We have low wifi connectivity, people want to buy things patingi‑tingi, and people are more highly familiar with texting than with using apps.”

As long as Manong Driver and Aleng Sweeper have Smart or Talk ‘N Text sim cards loaded with cellphone credit, they can avail of BIMA’s insurance for accidental death, fire, animal bites, vehicular accidents, food poisoning, murder, flood and earthquakes. If they applied for the ₱70 per month insurance process, BIMA will deduct ₱5 pesos per day for fourteen days. They will be able to claim a ₱210,000 peso insurance in case something happens to them next month, but they will also be able to claim ₱35,000 in case they need it the same month they applied. Should they not be able to pay the full ₱70, their insurance will be equivalent to the amount deducted. (So if BIMA was only able to deduct ₱35, the insured will be covered for ₱105,000. And if BIMA was only able to deduct ₱5, then the insured will be covered for ₱15,000.)

But it hasn’t always been this way. BIMA has been in the Philippines since 2014, and Ms. Lim in BIMA since 2016. In the interim, the partnership with Smart did not exist and they tried collecting the insurance fees personally. “Before we tried having people pay via cash. We had about 16,000 customers via cash. But its not efficient because we have to personally collect ₱70 every month. With technology, the process became scaleable.”

Recognizing that there are a lot of areas where you just can't get wifi signal, the mobile app that BIMA uses does not need to be online while it collects the information of clients. “Our staff’s app operates offline to collect information, then they can sync online to submit all the information to our records,” Ms. Lim added.

BIMA’s process is also paperless, a simple text message or phone call to BIMA plus proof of their predicament is all the person enrolled in their program has to do to redeem their insurance. However, more education seems to be needed for this to happen, as the respondents in their Baranggay Wack‑Wack presentation did not seem comfortable with the paperless process. “Anong ipapakita ko na pruweba kung wala akong papeles,” one of them asked.

BIMA is going from town to town, and wherever people might need them—like in market places and jeepney stations—to reach out to the people who need them the most. While they are currently in their pre‑registration stage, Ms. Lim hopes that someday reach more people who need insurance the most.

“We aim to have one million people insured by 2020,” said Ms. Lim.