No less than thirty years’ experience as a banker. That was what Gerry Vanhelmont brought when he became a member of the BRS Institute at the end of 2018, after retiring from KBC. He now volunteers his expertise for BRS and microfinancing institutions (MFIs) in the South. His first mission took him to Wasasa in Ethiopia.
Gerry: “Wasasa is the largest independent microfinancing institution in Ethiopia. The organisation has been supporting small-scale farmers for fifteen years, first with credits, and later with savings products. And it does a great job, serving 147,000 customers. Wasasa is still developing. As a result the demand for insurance products tailored to the poor agricultural population also grew.
I left for Addis Ababa at the end of January, to discuss the options with them. Along with Tom Geladé of BRS and Frederik Goegebeur of KBC Insurance, both with considerable expertise in microinsurance. Beforehand, we examined a World Bank study of microinsurance in Ethiopia. As well as the results of a survey that Wasasa had organised on our initiative. In it, employees and customers discussed their requirements, priorities and possibilities.
The great need for insurance for agricultural activities immediately caught our eye. This is logical, when you know that almost everyone in Ethiopia is a farmer or at least owns a few cows. Most of the Oromia region where Wasasa operates also occupies a plateau. The drought and freezing temperatures there often destroy the harvest of chickpeas and teff (a popular cereal). And for those with few resources, the impact of a failed harvest or of sick livestock is, of course, disastrous.”
Gerry: “Now, experience has taught us that agricultural insurance is highly complex. Difficult to organise and loss-making too. Therefore the challenge was considerable: examine the whole process together with the people of Wasasa, and still come up with concrete proposals for microinsurance. Our visit to local insurer Oromia Insurance Company was very enlightening. Even for this large insurer, agricultural insurance was loss-making. Their advice was thus very clear: do not get involved on your own.”
Gerry: “Oromia’s advice disappointed CEO Amsalu Alemaheyu and his team. The fact that they nevertheless took this advice to heart proves their maturity. Like the fact that they don’t give up. They are expanding their credit insurance - even when the partner dies, repayment expires - and are examining whether Wasasa could act as a distributor of Oromia’s agricultural insurance. For example, the MFI meets the needs of its customers while the risk lies with the insurer. BRS supports Wasasa in both scenarios.”
“This first assignment showed me that BRS really makes a difference. With combined expertise, a structured approach and based on a high level of motivation to help people who need it most. And I totally agree with that.”