3 minute read 11 Feb 2019
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How insurers are embracing digitization in emerging markets


Rohan Sachdev

EY Global Insurance Emerging Markets Leader and EY India Advisory Services Leader

Passionate about driving the clients’ agenda. Expert in leveraging rich talent in the local markets and the power of the global organization. Business builder. Innovation enthusiast.

3 minute read 11 Feb 2019

Insurers in South Africa, India and Brazil are strengthening customer relationships and brand recognition by investing in digital platforms.

technologically enabled future is increasingly gaining focus across Latin America, Africa and South Asia. We are working with insurers in these regions to fine-tune their platforms and enhance the efficiency of their back-office operations. While agents and brokers still dominate the industry in most emerging markets, our strategies aim to help them strengthen relationships with customers in the ever-changing digital environment.

As digital technologies evolve, companies are finding new ways to speed up processes, reduce costs and strengthen their brand recognition in the market. Firms are continuing to boost investments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data and expand use of telematics, mobile phones and table computers. We explore some of the innovative initiatives and challenges that companies face in three different emerging markets. 

South Africa: In the experimental stage

Although brokers continue to dominate the insurance market across Africa, the industry is quick to embrace digital solutions. As customer needs evolve, insurers struggle to strike the right balance between their legacy operations which contribute to a large revenue and the opportunities that the new digital landscape will generate.

Most customers still purchase insurance policies through financial advisors, insurance agents or brokers. However, a recent EY survey found that customers in South Africa are more likely to use digital channels to check and compare policies than their UK counterparts. The challenge remains of converting the browsing into a successful sale still prevails in these markets. 

37% of South African customers use their mobile phones or computers for the initial process of browsing and identifying policies, according to Oxford Economics. 

While mobile and digital applications are targeted to specific markets, such as funeral insurance, major initiatives are transforming back-office operations to become more cost-effective and reliable. Boosting the company’s back-office efficiency without endangering the brokerage relationship will be key. Traditional insurance firms have focused on making sales processes easier for the digital customer, but primarily in non-life products because of the strong position brokers and intermediaries still possess in life coverage.

It is too early to judge success, but executives often need to explore the potential of a new distribution model. While most insurers see the benefits of digital strategies, only a few have implemented them. As digital sales increase, expect companies to launch products that enhance the customer journey.

Learn more details in our Future of Distribution in South Africa Report

India: Agents and brokers still reign

Even though digital channels have become a more significant method for selling insurance across India, brokers and agents continue to be the dominant point of sales. While the younger generation of consumers evaluate and assess insurance products online, the actual sale usually requires a face-to-face conversation with the agent.

By developing an end-to-end sales tool for the front-line sales staff, we are helping Indian firms develop a robust “hybrid model” where digital tools help agents find the right products to sell to the right customers. Equally significant, the move to digital sales allows agents to develop and store customer data based on their daily client interaction. Over time, this will allow agents to change their sales approach from a service delivery model to one where they own and manage client relationships, thus leading to cross-selling opportunities.

While customers for non-life policies, like travel or motor insurance, are rapidly moving to embrace digital solutions, agents will continue to be a cog in the life insurance market. However, harnessing digital applications on mobile phones can reduce friction, boost efficiency and improve the quality of sales, which may be the optimal means of servicing the Indian market.

Learn more details in our Future of Distribution in India Report

Brazil: Strengthening the bancassurance model

Bancassurance accounts for nearly one-third of all revenue generated by financial institutions in Brazil, mainly from commissions and asset management fees. As digital banking gains momentum, banks must find new ways to present their insurance products to their would-be customers even though many customers still expect personal interactions to secure a sale.

We focused our efforts with key banking clients on streamlining the distribution process within banks to reduce the time required for underwriting and processing life insurance products. The new system identifies the technical requirements to develop a policy and rapidly generates price quotes. Such a business processing system is critical for smooth communication and integrating banking and insurance.

64% of life insurance coverage and 13% of non-life coverage in Brazil today is sold through banking institutions, according to Oxford Economics

Looking ahead, the largest growth opportunity in the Brazilian market will be most likely to emerge from annuity and universal life products which will continue to be distributed mainly by banks. Increasingly, banks must recognize the need to establish an insurance operating model that works for mobile and internet banking. This will require them to develop specialized teams that are able to sell more customized insurance solutions. New business models would leverage the customer data they receive from both, banking and insurance operations, to develop tailored products for individual clients. 

Learn more details in our Future of Distribution in Brazil report

Digital will not replace agents 

The three emerging markets illustrate how distribution is changing for the insurance industry. The rise of digital platforms will help insurers speed up processes and further reduce costs. In markets like South Africa, telematics is being used to assess driver behavior in underwriting automobile insurance, while smartphones in India help confirm coverage of new policies. 

Though many products lend themselves to digital solutions, agents and brokers still matter and play an important role. The relationships they have developed with customers cannot be readily displaced. As a result, direct or online distribution will take time to mature in these markets, but the future looks promising.


Digital solutions offer ways for insurance companies in developing countries to reimagine how they connect and engage with customers. While distribution is changing for the industry, the rise of digital platforms will help insurers keep up pace of distribution and achieve business goals

About this article


Rohan Sachdev

EY Global Insurance Emerging Markets Leader and EY India Advisory Services Leader

Passionate about driving the clients’ agenda. Expert in leveraging rich talent in the local markets and the power of the global organization. Business builder. Innovation enthusiast.