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Jim Roth | We will invest $5-15 million across portfolio companies

Jim Roth | We will invest $5-15 million across portfolio companies
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First Published: Tue, Apr 20 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Due diligence: Roth, principal at LeapFrog Investments.
Due diligence: Roth, principal at LeapFrog Investments.
Updated: Tue, Apr 20 2010. 12 01 PM IST
LeapFrog Investments, a Mauritius-based fund that invests in microfinance institutions (MFIs) offering insurance to the poor, is looking to deploy around $40 million (Rs178.4 crore) from its $110-million global fund in India. LeapFrog, whose investors include Soros Economic Development Fund set up by investor George Soros, the World Bank’s investment arm International Finance Corp. and Omidyar Network run by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is looking at replicating in India some of the affordable insurance models it has introduced in Africa and other parts of Asia.
Due diligence: Roth, principal at LeapFrog Investments.
“The future of financial inclusion lies in microfinance beyond credit,” Jim Roth, principal at LeapFrog Investments, says in an interview. Edited excerpts:
What is the opportunity for a microinsurance fund in emerging markets?
While there were 43 microfinance funds globally  in 2004— which grew to around 103 funds in 2009—we are the only fund solely focused on microinsurance. Over one billion low-income people in India are seeking, and are able to pay for, insurance, but the market penetration is less than 9%. In 2009, the non-life microinsurance business alone pulled in over Rs 1,300 crore in premiums. There are currently 24 microinsurance plans registered with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) by 15 commercial life insurers in India. Yet there is a huge growth opportunity as only five million people, or 2% of the poor, have microinsurance. 
We have raised $110 million and are committing $30-37 million in India... We have investments in the Philippines, South Africa and Asia. One of the key things about microinsurance is that it involves a low premium and low coverage limits, designed to service low-income groups and businesses not served by typical social or commercial insurance schemes. Since the ticket size is small, you have to capture large markets with a huge population. In countries with a small population like three million to five million, the market size is small. Large countries offer a rapid growth in financial distribution networks.
What are the kinds of insurance products and services suited for the low-income population?
The existing premiums offered by the commercial insurance companies in India, which only includes death benefits and not life benefits, have premiums as low as $0.20 per month. Our product range will vary from providing insurance to three-wheelers and social security insurance—a person will have a job but, say, 10 people in the family will not have one.
Our definition of low income is not necessarily how Irda defines it. It is not necessarily very low income, but also (includes) those who are socially excluded from getting these kinds of insurance products. We have an investment in a South African insurance company called AllLife that serves people living with HIV and diabetes.?They provide insurance products and services, which is a distinctive and profitable business model. We will sell such products here also as all these people are potential premium paying customers.
What will be your differential investment strategy in India?
Unlike a lot of funds focused on microfinance which provide debt, we only provide equity. We provide more patient capital and have a longer horizon of about five-seven years. We will make investments in MFIs to the extent that the proceeds are used in providing insurance benefits. We will invest in third-party distributors, financial distribution companies and also pick up stakes in commercial insurance companies. We will partner with banks, development institutions and NBFCs (non-bank finance companies). One of the key advantages that we see in India is the huge mobile market. There are a lot of mobile companies which sell insurance products taking advantage of value-added services. We will invest $5-15 million across portfolio companies.
There is a perception that MFI loans are being pushed to groups without ascertaining the repayment capacity of the ultimate borrowers. How will you check that?
The future of financial inclusion lies in microfinance beyond credit. We are a private equity fund and have an on-the-ground advisory team in India. We have a very extensive due diligence process and, every?quarter,?we?will monitor the team, the premium charges, client numbers and awareness about these products. We have to make sure we back good-quality management teams and make sure that they make microinsurance a social and financially relevant product.
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First Published: Tue, Apr 20 2010. 01 15 AM IST