At this year’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Awards, Prudential Corporation Asia (PCA), was recognized for the second time as one of the three “Friends of ASEAN.” For PCA, the Asia headquarters of British life insurer Prudential plc., the award confirms its growing influence in the region and its commitment to assist in driving one of the major policy issues among governments, financial inclusion.
The World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Index (Global Findex), which provides a comprehensive database on the topic, sees financial inclusion as a means to reducing poverty and achieving inclusive economic growth. The latest report, from 2014, has noted that among its substantial benefits for individuals are increasing savings, empowering women, and boosting productive investment and consumption.
In the ASEAN region, there has been, of late, a heightened resolve to push financial inclusion. The statement from the 3rd ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting that was held in the Philippines in April, as part of the country’s ASEAN chairmanship this year, includes the commitment of the ten ASEAN governments to deliver the financial inclusion initiative of bringing more financial products and services to underserved communities in the region.
With its varying levels of economic progress, ASEAN makes for an ideal test space for financial inclusion. The small island states of Singapore and Brunei Darussalam enjoy a distant lead in terms of GDP per capita which can be used to measure and compare living standards between countries. In 2015, GDP per capita (at current prices) of Singapore was at US$52,743.9 and the oil-rich Brunei at US$30,942.1.
At the extreme bottom are the emerging economies of Cambodia, Myanmar, and LAO PDR with GDP per capita of US$1,198.5, US$1,246.1, and US$1,831.2 in 2015, respectively. The Philippines ranked sixth with US$2,850.5 in GDP per capita, forming the lower mid-income cluster in the region, along with Vietnam whose GDP per capita was at US$2,108.8. The countries of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia fared better with GDP per capita of US$3,357.1, US$5,736.9, and US$9,656.8, respectively.
Global insurance companies like Prudential take a part in the financial inclusion initiative by working to provide access to insurance products especially to the low-income population. Aside from insurance products which offer protection from financial losses, financial inclusion also refers to other financial products such as credit and savings with banks or other formal institutions.
Insurance penetration in the ASEAN region remains very low, according to the latest paper from the EU-ASEAN Business Council on “Prosperity, Protection and Partnership: The role of the insurance sector in driving sustained growth in ASEAN” that was released last April and supported by Prudential. The insurance penetration rate (total premium as % of GDP) in ASEAN in 2014 stood at 3.34%. In the same year, insurance penetration rates in Europe and the US were at 6.89% and 7.28%, respectively.
“Insurance penetration rates in most ASEAN member states remain low and many countries in ASEAN demonstrate a worrying savings and protection gap as populations grow older and increasingly wealthy,” according to the report. In the Philippines, a country with a population of over 105 million, the insurance penetration rates, were even lower than the regional average of 3.34%. The country’s life and non-life penetration rates were at 1.42% and 0.51%, respectively in 2013.
Insurers then like Prudential’s Philippine subsidiary, Pru Life UK, now face the exciting challenge of developing new products that appeal and are accessible to a wide range of customers, especially among the country’s poor. This is one way of bridging the financial access gaps in the Philippines and in the region.
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