Norwegian telecoms incumbent Telenor is to start offering mobile phone-based insurance products to its customers in Asia in partnership with UK-based MicroEnsure Holdings.
Set up in 2008 as a subsidiary of Opportunity International, a non-profit microfinance organization, MicroEnsure (Cheltenham, UK) already provides insurance services to more than 4 million people in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia.
MicroEnsure Asia, its new joint venture with Telenor (Fornebu, Norway), will initially focus on selling insurance products to the operator’s business units in Asia, but the entity also plans to work with other mobile network operators and distribution partners in Asia and Eastern Europe.
The companies say there is a substantial untapped market for such offerings, with less than 5% of the population in many Asian countries having any kind of insurance.
“MicroEnsure is a good match for Telenor,” said Abraham Foss, the head of financial services for Telenor. “Their range of products reaches more than 4 million customers in Africa and Asia, and they have broad experience in low-cost operations.”
MicroEnsure thinks it can capitalize on the “significant interest” shown by most mobile network operators in providing financial services – and specifically insurance – and sees Telenor as an ideal strategic partner because of its footprint in the Asian region.
Telenor is the controlling shareholder in Bangladesh’s Grameenphone, Thailand’s DTAC and Malaysian operator Digi, owns Telenor Pakistan and also runs a network business in India.
Besides forming the new joint venture with Telenor, MicroEnsure has also expanded its shareholder base “to provide the capital and relationships needed to continue the group’s rapid expansion”.
New shareholders include Omidyar Network, a Silicon Valley-based investment firm, the International Finance Corporation and MicroEnsure management.
Opportunity International is to retain a minority shareholding in the business.