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How a chat with waiter birthed disruptive app

By Wainaina Wambu | November 5th 2019 at 17:00:00 GMT +0300

Griffin Insurance CEO Jihan Abass during an interview with Financial Standard on Thursday, October 31 2019 [David Njaaga,Standard]
Griffin Insurance CEO Jihan Abass during an interview with Financial Standard on October 31, 2019 [David Njaaga,Standard]

Three years ago, Jihan Abass visited a local restaurant. Out of curiosity, she asked a waiter whether he had any insurance cover.

The waiter’s answer was no. The same went for almost everyone else she came across on the streets.

This puzzled Ms Jihan who believes insurance, especially health cover is essential.

The majority of the Kenyan population is under-insured, with insurance penetration standing at 2.43 per cent - the lowest in 15 years.

The Oxford MBA graduate then started researching on the Kenyan insurance industry. She identified the gaps and saw a business opportunity.

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“I realised that a lot of people here don’t have medical cover. That’s how I started to think about insurance, everybody deserves that,” she told Financial Standard. She set up a team. One-and-a-half-year later, Griffin, a disruptive insurance application with a focus on car insurance was born.

Through the app, Griffin offers comprehensive and third party insurance cover. This week, the firm will roll out a motorcycle insurance cover.

According to Jihan, there’s a huge gap between the number of insurance companies in the market compared to the penetration. Kenya has 52 insurance companies.

She said poor adoption of technology in the industry has derailed the sector’s growth.

“We thought of digitising the entire process - end to end by creating a fully digital platform for insurance that would help in the process. We also thought of designing new innovative products and things that people want that would help create convenience for many,” she said.

The app has also worked to solve the sluggish payments of claims by eliminating paperwork.

It takes two minutes to buy a policy on the Griffin app and claims are paid in a week. Immediately after downloading, you get a quotation. She said the apps provided by other industry players are only partially digitised.

“We’ve digitised the entire process and there’s no paperwork here. The only thing we have to print is the certificate because it’s required by law,” said Jihan. For example, accident emergency services are quickly notified and experts immediately come to the scene to collect information.

“We want to change the market and how people view insurance in general. Traditional insurance has a lot of paperwork which is tedious. We want to streamline the process,” she added.

Jihan said at the moment they are only working with Pioneer Insurance which swiftly pays claims.

She said their app would step up competition in the sector.

“Insurance companies will be forced to change, improve and be better for customers who’ll get better prices and customer service because we’re the people who are now trying to change how the process works,” said Jihan.

Motor sector

She said they chose to start with car insurance because it’s mandatory before venturing into other products later. “By offering a mandatory insurance cover, we’ll get people to develop trust with our brand and we can, later on, offer other products,” she said.

A 2018 Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) report shows that the 23 companies made Sh2.7 billion losses in the private motor sector insurance due to fraud attributed to exaggerated claims and stage-managed accidents.

Jihan, however, reckoned that technology can solve this. She said poor-risk profiling and inadequate use of data has perpetuated the vice.

“The best way is technology. Statistics don’t lie, the problem is insurance companies are not doing proper risk profiling for customers. They overcharge people who are not risky and undercharge very risky people,” she said.

“As we start getting data from our customers, we’ll be able to analyse and offer better prices.”

Since its launch in September, active users stand at 347. However, Griffin Marketing Manager Ummulkher Mohamed said winning customers over has been not been easy.

“We thought we have this amazing app and uptake would be easy, but people are skeptical because this is a new product,” said Mr Ummulkher.

Business associate Nadia Abass said people buy and soon realise the quality service and upgrade their cover.

“We’ve had a couple of people buy only third party cover maybe for one month and realise that these people are good and upgrade their cover,” said Ms Nadia.

“We hope to soon expand to other markets but the biggest thing is staying ahead of the curve and innovating.”

Jihan meanwhile, urged the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) to render more support to tech start-ups such as hers.

“IRA needs to be more supportive and open to new tech firms coming into insurance. Right now I feel like they protect the traditional insurance firms,” she said.

The minimum capital requirement for a general insurance licence is Sh600 million, which Jihan said is too high.

“No start-up can pay that. Funders will only give you money for growth,” said Jihan. With statistics showing most start-ups fail in their first year of business, she said having the right team is key to success.  

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