Human-centered Innovation in Microinsurance

A Financial Inclusion Case Study


Pioneer Microinsurance (PMI) is the largest provider of microinsurance products and services in Philippines. The organization is a part of the Pioneer Insurance Group, and has grown rapidly since its launch, from just 27,000 policies issued in 2009 to over 10 million in 2016; its line of products and services cater specifically to consumers at the base of the pyramid. The impact that their organization has in helping customers put their lives back together following such events is a focal point in how senior management approaches its daily operations in the present, and plans for the future moving forward.

PMI’s growth and popularity brought the organisation to a pivotal crossroads. Senior management was keenly aware that they would need to expand operations rapidly to capitalise on the market demand their products garnered. However, this growth needed to be supported with systems and structure that would facilitate expansion in line with the ethos of the organisation, which is predicated upon empathy for its customers. It was critical that this empathic approach was not diluted as the organisation expanded, and that there be a clear articulation of this culture of putting their customer’s needs first in a manner that it could be operationalised and built upon.

Downtown Manila, Philippines

Twin Challenge of Making Processes and People More Customer Centric

Growing pains are an unavoidable reality for any organization expanding its operations. Maintaining the guiding principles that served a smaller group so well, becomes much more challenging as a company increases its size. This is the reality that PMI found itself in.

PMI senior management, from its inception, built their expansion strategy around harnessing the talents of the millennial generation, and particularly with those whose experience and expertise are in fields outside traditional insurance practices (e.g., marketing, psychology). Managing this kind of staff requires a different approach than tried-and-true tactics in order to best capitalise on their positive energy. The challenge for senior management at PMI then was to identify approaches that provided structure whilst also providing staff with the freedom to be creative and self-determined.

Pioneer staff working on a collective mission statement during this year’s offsite training trip.

Designing the Transition, Bottom-up

The Quicksand team engaged with headquarter and field staff, as well as customers, to better understand the perceptions, challenges, and opportunities that would, or could, impact the development of customer-centric behaviours. This was accomplished through interviews, workshops, and observations. The behaviours which emerged from these engagements were: Collaboration, Empathy, Problem Solving, Business Acumen, Communication, and Leadership.

These interactions proved instrumental in directing the subsequent design efforts for developing the change management toolkit (i.e., on-boarding and training programs, a performance management system, and a remuneration and rewards strategy), particularly with respect to identifying the customer-centric behaviours that staff needed to develop, be trained on, and evaluated against.

The tools developed to assist PMI’s journey towards customer centricity were created in an effort to keep these six distinct behaviours at the forefront. These will act as the lenses in which performance is measured and rewarded, are the foundation for the on-boarding program, and were even personified as superhero characters that serve as the training program’s overall narrative.

Piloting the training challenge to collaboratively identify pain-points and adjust the module accordingly.

Key Takeaways

The multiple engagements with PMI staff made it clear that a different, more inclusive and engaging approach would need to be taken. Some of the observations and insights that emerged from our engagements with PMI staff include:

The young staff is very close-knit and enjoy working closely with each other, as well as their customers.

  • Working in a group to accomplish tasks is preferred to independent activities.
  • Engaging with actual customers has considerable impact with staff.

Getting out of the office to engage with customers in-context reinforces the value of their work.

  • Previous field visits were called out as highlights.
  • Breaking out of the regular routine would go a long way in keeping people engaged and enthused.

Their collaborative spirit extended beyond work, and staff has an affinity for game-play and performance.

  • Performing (especially singing and dancing) has near universal appeal with staff.
  • Video games, action figures, and posters of various superheroes were all observed at the PMI offices.

There is an active interest in holistically understanding the organisation’s operations and to work in a multidisciplinary manner.

  • Staff expressed a desire to interact with members of other departments in a meaningful manner.
  • Individuals identified a full-spectrum understanding of operations as critical to their growth within the organisation.

Training would need to be provided in a manner that takes into account daily realities and constraints, as well as in-line with staff interests.

  • With the organisation growing rapidly, staff is time-constrained; training needs to be on-going and modular to account for this.
  • Training needs to be flexible and not prescriptive to provide a level of independence to staff and to harness their creative spirit.

Providing adequate training would need to be in-line with these traits and preferences. A passive system of conveying information would fail to have the impact that was required. With this as a foundation, the Quicksand team set out to design all training elements to reflect what had been learned in the field.

Engaging with people in their context to better understand challenges, opportunities, and perceptions.

Gradual and Integrated Change Management Framework

The resultant frameworks were co-created with PMI staff, and with guidance from the CGAP team. These were tested through workshop engagements in context and refined based on emergent insights. These engagements facilitated the design of interconnected modules that independently address specific needs and collectively provide the necessary road map for ensuring alignment throughout the organization on its customer centricity objectives.

On-boarding: The on-boarding modules are diverse and look to cover broader theoretical aspects like financial behaviours of low-income customers and strategies to work at the Base of Pyramid, organisation’s point of view on customer centricity and skills (human centred design, qualitative research, ideation, and prototyping).

Defenders of Customer Centricity: A training program was designed to provide a fun and engaging format that reinforces key customer centric behaviours through role play, team-work and a gamified activity. The program was built as three-week problem solving challenges, that took the participants through the typical design thinking process. Customer centric behaviours were embodied in superhero characters (called Defenders of Customer Centricity), that guided players to achieve pre-determined tasks — both individually and collectively — while learning certain foundational principles of human centred design.

One of the comic strips developed to illustrate the superhero narrative that frames the training program.
Character-themed badges to reward positive performance against key behaviours as part of the training challenge.

Performance Management System and Remuneration & Recognition: A dashboard for tracking employee progress in developing customer centric behaviours over time was created in an effort to quantify performance against the learning and training modules. This dashboard is connected to a framework that rewards positive performance such that there is a clear personal benefit above and beyond that of the customers.

The on-boarding program provides new employees with the foundational knowledge they require to be both effective in their new roles at PMI and to be customer-centric in all of their activities. The training module builds off of this foundation by revisiting the customer centricity behaviours in a fun and engaging manner whilst also working to address a pressing organisational challenge. Employee performance is evaluated based on an one’s ability to incorporate the learnings and behaviours in their daily activities, and this is factored into compensation. Therefore, the individual elements represent a robust system for establishing, nurturing, and rewarding customer centricity for all staff.

Capturing insights during co-creation workshops for final toolkit development.

Looking Forward

The experience of developing the frameworks for building a customer-centric organization was an affirmation of the design thinking process. At a macro level, these frameworks were designed by capitalising on the same skills and approaches that they seek to train PMI staff in, specifically working in multidisciplinary teams, engaging with people in their context, ideating and prototyping, and keeping the individual or individuals being designed for at the center of all activities.

The overarching challenge moving forward is for PMI take the next step in their customer-centricity journey: moving from abstraction to execution. The frameworks designed to facilitate this will need to be piloted to identify and address any pain-points and adjust accordingly. Approaching such a program with an understanding that it will need to be fluid and constantly evolve will greatly aid in achieving the end goal.

As reflected within the design thinking process, this journey is not a linear one; it is cyclical and iterative. Revisiting the same approaches utilized in the initial development of these frameworks as the organization continues to grow and expand will help ensure they remain impactful. This approach will be most reflective of the organization’s customer centric ideals as doing so will only serve their customers in more and better ways.