Jihan Abbas, 26, is the founder and CEO of Griffin Insurance, the first digital car insurance company in Kenya. She speaks with MONICA MBOGO on changing the game in the insurance sector.

Brought up in Mombasa, Jihan Abbas attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to her father an entrepreneur himself dealing in various trades. And although things were pretty slow and easy going in the coastal region, her father was grooming her to take on the world from as early as she can remember. Her indomitable will to make a difference is proof of that.

“I used to accompany my dad to work since I was eight and from an early age, I learnt the importance of building something of your own,” Jihan starts off.

Like many people, growing up, she did not know exactly how her career path would pan out and at some point, thought that she would be a lawyer. However, the one thing she firmly believed in was entrepreneurship and the associated risks with the hope of acquiring substantial results.

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in finance from Cass Business School in London, she worked on the trading floor in the UK as a commodity futures trader for a year before she decided to take the risk and start her own business in 2017. Having learnt to be a risk taker on the trading floor, she was ready for the possibility of either a loss or a win. The experience had also taught her how to manage people, persevere tough times and manage stress. These lessons came in handy as she set up Lami, an insurance service platform that seeks to digitise the entire insurance process.

As a young female entrepreneur, she knew she would face so many stereotypes that would somewhat put a damper on her willpower. This motivated her to undertake a Master’s degree in business administration at the University of Oxford, which she says has validated her stance as a formidable female entrepreneur.

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Penetrating the insurance space

With her background in finance, she decided to integrate both the business and technology aspects of insurance after the realisation that most Kenyans did not have an insurance cover. Her desire to make a difference was her guiding light.

“Africa has only three per cent insurance penetration with citizens only relying on one source of income. In most cases, these people and businesses are not protected and if anything goes unplanned, everything collapses. Financial inclusivity is important but financial stability supersedes it and insurance is the glue that holds it together. That was my motivation to set up an insurance company,” says the businesswoman.

With Lami’s technology in place, she then set up Griffin Insurance, which through the Griffin Motor App, is redefining car insurance as the first smart car insurance in Kenya. The application, which was launched officially for download in January, uses ultra-modern technologies, providing a faster and more efficient way of getting car insurance with no paperwork required.

Among its major feats, despite their less than two years of operation, is cutting down the previous 30-day claim period to just a week. Jihan adds that there is a plan to cut back on the aforementioned time to only a few hours.

As the CEO of Griffin, Jihan is focussed on ensuring that the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) understands the potential gain that the company can bring to the insurance sector not only in Kenya but also in Africa. She voices her concerns on the alarming 52 insurance companies in Kenya with only 2.8 per cent market penetration and the lack of digital infrastructure. According to her, this will allow more people to create digital insurance products that transcend outdated trends and lifestyles. She hopes that regulation in insurance is revamped for the betterment of the entire insurance industry.

“Our main goal is ensuring that customer experience is prioritised. The company has ameliorated some of the services such that clients can pause their insurance coverage if they are travelling and pay in installments for car policies. There is also an emergency bundle just for our customers in case of an accident or even punctures,” she explains.

For Griffin, the goal was to cast aside any traditional means of selling insurance by digitising the entire process. Based on the reception by insurance underwriters and the general public, it is well on its way to overhaul the insurance sector. Now that the whole process is electronic, through Griffin, she is hoping to facilitate underwriters to access web, apps and other new points of sale that were never accessed before.

“You can use your online banks but you cannot buy insurance there, we hope to change this. There are underwriters who are afraid of working with us but most of them see our value. We personally do not underwrite; we are just facilitators. All in all, no one can fight technology and that is good for us,” she expounds.

Changing the status quo

It has definitely not been an easy route since she quit a well-paying job in London and decided to come back home. Initially, actualising the idea took a while, as she had to recruit a concrete team to build the technology that Griffin is founded on.

To start with, funding was definitely a big challenge for her as she reveals that being a woman in this particular industry has been knotty. She attests that raising funds for the longest time has been left to expatriates who have a 50 per cent more likelihood of acquiring capital from investors.

“With this you now understand why there are not as many women or even black people in entrepreneurship and more so startups in Kenya, as opposed to other countries like Nigeria where startups are mostly dominated by locals. This narrative needs to change and there needs to be justification of funds given especially to locals who in most cases have the most practical inventions,” she reveals

At the end of the day, however, she insists on clutching any opportunity that arises and making the most of it. For her, remaining resolute in her path has helped her validate and actualise her idea to fruition. This has also earned her the title of ‘revolutionary entrepreneur’, although she modestly brushes it off. Leading a team of 13, she is nonetheless proud of what they have achieved in a short time and for her, this is a dream come true.

“I learn every single day and having a team of people to manage really pushes you as a leader. It is important for me to get feedback from my dad and friends in similar positions. For me, being a leader is being a team player. It is crucial for each one of us to voice our ideas and opinions and for that I value our brainstorming sessions. Leadership to me is a balance between leading a group of individuals whilst working side by side with them,” she says.

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What differentiates this insurance company from all the others is that her team does not work on giving superficial services. Their aim is to ensure that they continuously add value throughout their consumer’s car experience. They are also keen on cyber security measures, ensuring that their systems are updated regularly to ensure that data protection is top-grade.

“With the new data protection laws, no one is allowed to sell data. It is important for people to trust you as an insurance company. We do our extreme best to see to it that each one of these laws are adhered to for the protection of our clientele,” she says.

As a young pioneer in the digital insurance space, she hopes that young developers will be motivated to use their technology and innovate around the insurance industry. To that effect, they have made their technology available to anyone willing to create digital insurance products. Her main target is to make sure that the three per cent barrier is conquered. Fortunately, she attests that although many people were not keen on digitised insurance, they were excited and shocked at how easy the whole process is.

Having seen the potential that technology presents, she urges more women and locals to get into the digital insurance space for the betterment of the entire platform. And with the increased uptake of fintech services, her and her team are keeping to their promise of being innovators, with plans to set up a similar medical product in Kenya and beyond.

She also has some words of wisdom for entrepreneurs: “Entrepreneurship is not easy. Try to validate your ideas with the least resources before taking the big leap. Once you decide that it is viable, take the risk and be relentless in your objectives.”

This article was first published in the March issue of Parents Magazine

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