Curacel is an African technology startup creating innovative infrastructure for the insurance sector—one that is notably resistant to change
Financial inclusion is the new buzzword in the African financial ecosystem. Helping people access financial services is the holy grail for both traditional bankers and techpreneurs all around the continent.
To give credit where it’s due, there is a lot of work being done by both startups, legacy companies, and central banks to improve financial inclusion. However, this work often stops at providing people access to the basics i.e. a bank account or wallet where they can perform cash-in cash-out transactions.
Financial inclusion, however, is more than being able to pay and withdraw money. It includes access to vertical products like savings, loans, investments, and the center of this article—insurance. These products are what significantly improve the lives of everyday people.
Insurance for instance can help people mitigate shocks and manage expenses due to unforeseen events, allowing them to plan for the future with more certainty. Despite access to inclusion growing across the continent, access to these products, especially insurance, seems to be at a standstill.
Take Nigeria—Africa’s largest country by population size—for instance. Financial inclusion is reported to have grown from 53.7% in 2010 to 64% in 2020. What that really means is that more people have access to cash-in cash-out locations. Over that time, the insurance coverage rate among adults has moved from 1% to an estimated 5% in 2020 according to The Guardian.
The issues plaguing the native insurance sector range from over-regulation to improper financial education to low awareness to lack of disposable income, depending on who you ask.
One thing is clear regardless of how you look at it— the insurance sector is in dire need of innovation. That innovation is what Curacel is looking to provide in the coming years.
Building infrastructure for a traditional industry
Conservative, uninspiring and inert are all words that could be used to describe the insurance sector. According to Dr. Frank Ekhalufoh, Hallmark HMO, the top challenges his organisation has faced so far were “the need to automate some of our processes, the need for a bespoke enterprise software that is user-friendly, effective and efficient, and the absence of effective regulation of the health insurance space.”
While the third challenge—regulation, is out of the reach of private enterprises, the first two are challenges that Curacel is looking to solve.
As one of the few companies playing in the insurance space, Curacel prides itself on being an infrastructure provider for stakeholders in the insurance value chain. Speaking with Benjamindada.com, Henry Mascot said “Curacel builds the infrastructure that helps insurance companies manage and distribute their products better. We also have products that cater to other stakeholders within the value chain ” in an effort to summarize the company’s mission.
Until very recently, many of the industry’s operations were carried out manually. A typical example is Claims Processing— this is what happens after an insurer receives a claim and has to investigate it before making payment.
Until very recently, claims processing was done manually, requiring long hours and a lot of human resources.
Starting with health insurance companies, Curacel has built a system that uses AI to process claims at a fraction of the time and cost of a human processor. According to Dr. Frank, the Curacel platform acts like a receiving portal that saves the company time. “Our team does not need to manually cross check claims with tariffs as this is already done by the software. The correct agreed tariffs (rates) would’ve previously been uploaded by the Curacel team” he explained.
As seemingly benign as claims processing is, it is often the bane of other challenges faced by insurance firms; a couple of which are long processing times, inadequate human resources, insurance fraud, and finally—unprofitability. The effect on a company’s bottom-line cannot be overstated.
At Curacel, the motivation is that if it can help insurance firms achieve higher levels of efficiency, they can encourage them to expand their service and concentrate more on customer acquisition. This is why the company’s initial focus is on helping insurers digitize their previously physical processes.
In addition to digitizing, insurers also have inbuilt fraud prevention and detection systems. For instance, health insurers using Curacel’s technology do not have to worry about ghost enrollees m hospitals. This is because the company embeds a 2-factor authentication into its insurance claims system. The 2-factor system requires patients to confirm their presence at the hospital with an OTP sent to their mobile phones.
Insurers that use Curacel’s solutions have already noticed better efficiency due to the company’s technology. “Our payment cycle has improved from an average of 60days to 30 days.” said Dr. Frank of Hallmark HMO, one of Curacel’s customers. This small change has improved the firm’s efficiency by 50% and enabled it to pay its providing partners (hospitals, pharmacies, etc,) earlier.
As of the interview time, Hallmark was in the process of upgrading to Curacel’s AI-enabled module for claims processing. The insurer believes the upgrade can help them shorten the claims process to less than two weeks.
Building across the insurance value chain
While it builds on adoption for its Claims Automation and Fraud Detection products, Curacel is also looking to provide solutions for other parts of the value chain.
In the future, it is looking to help insurance companies solve distribution—the last piece of the puzzle for insurance firms. The company plans to aid distribution by embedding insurance packages in other fintech products.
The startup is also building a product for hospitals called Curacel Capital. This product helps hospitals and other service providers to bridge their cashflow needs. Insurance service providers sometimes have to wait very long times to get payment for services offered, which can leave them cash-strapped.
Despite the advances made, there’s still a lot of work to be done for the insurance sector. The sector is still heavily reliant on manual efforts to perform most tasks. Dr. Frank, the Hallmark of Hallmark HMO admits as much, “We need to move away from inefficient paper-based ways of working and adopt higher levels of automation that will allow us to do more and be more effective and profitable”.
Curacel is on a journey to help plug those technology gaps. In an industry that is regarded as slow-to-change, it will be interesting to see just how much the technology startup can achieve over the next few years.