Large and getting larger: Emerging Asia’s protection gaps

The prevalence of under-insurance and non-insurance in emerging markets is well-documented.[1] The proverbial protection gap persists across different risks, from property to health and mortality, variously also extending to include longevity and liability. There are many reasons underpinning the large protection gap and low insurance penetration in emerging markets, which can be summarised as the “Triple-A Conundrum” – i.e. lack of Accessibility, Affordability and Awareness.[2] These are considered key impediments to deepen insurance penetration in emerging markets including those in the Asia-Pacific region.

Empirical research on protection gaps has been stymied by a lack of data and standard definitions. In fact, different protection gaps are measured differently. For the property including natural catastrophe (nat cat) protection gap, it is measured in most cases as the difference between economic and insured losses over a period.[3] Mortality protection gap is the short-fall in household financial assets to sustain the living of surviving family members, in case of pre-mature death of the household breadwinner. The more challenging health protection gap is sometimes gauged by out-of-pocket expenses, while some estimates also consider the risk of catastrophic medical bills and non-treatment because of affordability and other reasons.

Notwithstanding the capriciousness of definitions and a dearth of data, empirical research is pointing to large protection gaps in emerging markets.[4] The gaps are of particular concern in emerging Asia, due to the region’s large population and fast economic growth. For instance, it is estimated that emerging Asia accounted for around 40% of the global health and mortality protection gaps, and some 20% of the nat cat protection gap.[5] The gaps are also widening. With property and nat cat protection gap, the rise in asset values particularly in disaster-prone coastal regions has outpaced the growth of insurance cover. This could have aggravated by increasing frequency and severity of calamities. Life-style considerations, rising medical inflation and aging population are some of the factors behind a widening health and mortality protection gap in emerging Asia. While the region has witnessed sustained strong life premium growth over the past decades, much of which is believed to be savings-type insurance policies.

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