Insuring “Emerging Women” – Old Issues, New Solutions

AXA shares insights on and solutions to women’s unmet insurance needs in emerging economies.

By Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of Emerging Customers, AXA Group

Women-focused insurance solutions are a central part of AXA’s Emerging Customers work. In our SHEforSHIELD report, launched with the International Finance Corporation in 2015, we found that the market is growing quickly, as women become more risk-aware and willing to invest in protection. We conducted focus groups with women in Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and learned that women have very specific, yet unmet needs when it comes to insurance. I am happy to share the stories of three of the women we met on our customer insights journey, diving into their fears and desires and the role that inclusive, women-focused insurance solutions could play.


”We are in good health, there are no problems,” we hear from Nurul and other women at the beginning of a focus group in rural Indonesia. Nurul, a 33 year old mother of three, is in her 4th loan cycle with a large group micro-lender. She and her husband live just above the national poverty line, earning an average of 3 million Indonesian Rupiah per month (around USD 220) through dairy farming, selling food and doing small jobs in the nearest town.

When we ask more, we discover that while Nurul does not worry about her own health, she is concerned with that of her husband, children and parents. She shares, “My husband is the head of my family, so if something happened to him, my family would not survive.” While her husband is the primary income earner, Nurul serves as the family’s primary caregiver, ensuring everyone is taken care of—particularly if anyone becomes ill.

This dichotomy is reflected in Nurul’s financial priorities, as well as that of many of her fellow borrowers. Despite the fact that one-fourth of Nurul’s neighbors have experienced pregnancy or newborn complications, with one-third of her fellow group members having given birth at home, our maternal health insurance concept was rejected unanimously during the focus group. Meanwhile, spouse life insurance and family hospitalization coverage a with transport allowance are in high demand among the women in the village.

While we still see a need for maternal health packages, we are adjusting our products to meet the actual desires of community members. We have bundled our family hospitalization coverage and spouse life protection, with health check-ups and basic education during weekly repayment meetings. In addition, we continue to improve our maternal health offerings. Together with medical device manufacturers and telemedicine providers, we have prototyped a solution that would make maternity care, including pre-paid check-ups and insurance for complications, safer and more affordable.


Across the ocean, we speak with almost-middle-class women in bustling Lagos. Ifunanya, a 36-year old mother of three, graduated from agricultural university and followed her husband 10 years ago when he got an accounting job in Lagos. After maternity break, Ifunanya got back to teaching, and together the couple earns a regular income of 200,000N every month (USD 566)—very close to a middle-class threshold in Nigeria. Ifunanya, along with the other women in the focus group, say all the right things about healthy lifestyle: prevention is better than a cure, good diet is important and physical activity is a must. They laugh when asked if they apply these concepts in practice, but are hungry for more information on how to live a healthy life.

AXA Photo Nigeria

Focus group in Nigeria. Photo credit: AXA

“Cancer is a situation that is feared in Nigeria. It is very difficult to handle… It cannot be managed,” admits Ifunanya. She is right. According to the World Health Organization, about 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually in Nigeria, while 250,000 new cases are recorded yearly. Specifically, Nigeria records 14,000 cervical cancer cases annually, part of the 85% of deaths from cervical cancer that occur in low- and middle-income countries. While Ifunanya does not know much about cancer, it is top-of-mind for her, and she and the other women in the group rank cancer as the most difficult health event to manage financially. “You will definitely need to have at least half a million naira to cope with it.” Ifunanya’s husband has a good insurance package from his employer, but it does not cover her at all.

All of this demonstrates demand for a solution that bundles health information, diagnostics and critical illness insurance, which can be delivered on a mobile platform.


The last stop of our consumer insights journey is the UAE, where we researched the needs of migrant women from Asia. Mary is 34 years old and has worked as a domestic helper in Dubai for the past five years. She earns AED 2,000 every month (USD 283), half of which she sends half home to her husband, two children, mother and sister. Improving the well-being and future prospects for her children is what motivates Mary. She is worried that if something happens to her, they will not be able to prosper. While she is very interested in our diaspora life insurance policy, she would prefer to put her mother or sister as beneficiaries to ensure her children’s welfare. Mary also saves money in a joint account with her sister to make sure she has easy access to funds when she gets back home. Many other Filipino domestic workers in our group in the UAE have accounts for the same purpose, creating a touch point with formal financial services. Migrant workers like Mary have a clear need for life insurance to cover their families in the event of a death, as well as easy ways to save money while they’re abroad.

Lessons Learned and Implications

Nurul, Ifunanya and Mary have many things in common. Being exposed to and unprotected against many risks, they are responsible caregivers with high aspirations for the future of their children. At the same time, they are so different. We need to start with a very simple offering for customers like Nurul in rural Indonesia, but if we build awareness, the solution prototyped for Ifunanya in Lagos might be also relevant for Nurul in the medium-term. Mary shows us that women face specific risks but also have specific preferences that need to be at the center of product and process design. For us, this is a thorny challenge, but also an incredible opportunity to ideate solutions for different stages of the emerging customer journey.

This all might look familiar to those of you who have been in the financial inclusion space for a long time. We are aware of the work done by Freedom from Hunger, among others, on bundling health and microfinance. Is this a déjà vu? We don’t believe so. We are taking lessons learned in the past and using them to fuel business model innovation. The issues are the same, but the rise of new technology and new health players makes it possible to come up with scalable and affordable solutions. It’s not only about cost anymore, it’s about changing behaviors by offering the right solutions to the right segment at the right time. For us, at AXA Emerging Customers, this is “make it or break it.” If we can’t provide health solutions to emerging customers, we won’t be successful in the long term. Join us to make it a reality.

Join the Conversation

Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter.