January 24, 2020 / 3:59 PM / a month ago

Kenyan woman, 26, sets up country's first digital car insurance company

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Jihan Abass, a 26-year-old Kenyan woman, often walks into meetings full of puzzled faces as people crane past her looking for the boss of her new digital motor insurance company.

Jihan Abass, founder and CEO of Griffin Insurance, speaks during an interview with Reuters as they prepare to release their flagship digital-only car insurance company, in Nairobi, Kenya January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Jackson Njehia

Abass is the boss.

“They would be surprised to see that it was actually me,” said Abass from her bright office in Nairobi, where almost every wall is covered in dry-erase marker scrawls.

Abass is founder and CEO of Griffin Insurance, which released its flagship mobile application on Friday. Griffin is Kenya’s first digital-only car insurance company, which lets customers pay in instalments and pause coverage if they travel abroad. Griffin will process claims in a week rather than the industry standard of 30 days, she said.

“It allows you to buy your insurance policy in less than two minutes,” said Abass.

In addition to the app, Abass’ 14-person team has another company, Lami, that sells the technology platform used to build Griffin so other businesses can use it to create their own digital insurance products.

Lami raised half a million dollars in seed funding and aims to close a further funding round by March. 

Abass, who grew up wakeboarding in the Indian Ocean at the weekend, always wanted to work in business. After graduating from university in London in 2015 she became a sugar trader and was one of a handful of women in the business, just as she is now.

Nairobi, a technology hub nicknamed “Silicon Savannah,” has attracted many entrepreneurs from places like the United States and United Kingdom.

“A lot of the CEOs here are not only men, but also foreigners,” Abass said. “You don’t really see faces like mine.”

Abass’ lightbulb moment came in 2016 at a restaurant when she learned her waiter didn’t have health insurance. Neither, she would later learn, did most Kenyans - health insurance coverage is about 19%, mostly under a low-cost government scheme, according to a 2018 paper in academic journal Health Systems and Reform.  

Digital insurance can drive down the cost of all forms of insurance because it increases transparency of data and analytics, said Abass.

While the team’s first foray is in motor insurance (selling policies underwritten by Kenyan insurers including Pioneer and Monarch), they hope to use their platform — and encourage other companies to so — to provide other forms of insurance, she said.

Editing by Katharine Houreld and David Holmes

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