Lack of insurance can be devastating to anyone facing an emergency, particularly a health crisis. While fewer Africans have insurance policies than people in other regions, a new breed of start-ups is deploying a range of technologies \u2014 including AI, API gateways and a variety of mobile platforms \u2014 to lower the cost of insurance services and bring them to markets that have historically been underserved by traditional insurance companies.\nAfrica's insurance industry is valued at about US$68 billion in terms of gross written premium (GWP) and is the eighth largest in the world, according to research by McKinsey. While the numbers may sound large, insurance is not equally available across the continent, policies are often too expensive for low-income consumers, and traditional methods of signing up customers require bank credentials that many people, especially in rural areas, do not have.\nAs a result, Africa is lagging behind the global average insurance penetration of 6%, according to a report by Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. Insurance penetration is the ratio of the total value of premium compared to gross domestic product (GDP). Kenya's insurance penetration is 2.4%, Uganda's is less than 1% and Tanzania's insurance penetration rate is among the lowest in Africa, at 0.5%, according to the most recent figures cited in the Strathmore report.\nOver the last two decades, out-of-pocket health payments as a portion of all health expenditures in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 40% in 2000 to over 60%, according to a UN analysis. "The effect of out-of-pocket payments can be catastrophic to families; it drags them into a poverty trap," the report said.\nAI, APIs, mobile apps transform insurance\nSeeing market opportunities, a growing number of companies are using a variety of technologies to offer new insurance products, particularly those suitable for low-income consumers, and to make insurance industry business processes more cost-effective.\nSome start-ups act as B2B (business-to-business), insurance-as-a-service providers offering, for example, APIs that allow enterprises and traditional insurance companies to connect to a variety of risk assessment and rate-quote services. Other companies are using mobile platforms and technology such as AI to offer innovative products, such as insurance for single items, and reach consumers who have up to now have not had access to insurance.\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\n"The shift to digital channels in Africa is well underway, and with that comes greater expectations of service delivery," said McKinsey in its report. "While we are seeing a number of insurers starting to digitize customer journeys, significant opportunities still exist to accelerate this in many markets," its report said.\nHere are 7 innovative enterprsies and start-ups paving the way to broader insurance coverage in Africa.\nLami Technologies \nYear Founded:\u00a02018\nHeadquarters:\u00a0Nairobi, Kenya\u00a0\nFounder:\u00a0Jihan Abass\nWhat they do: Lami Technologies seeks to give insurance companies and businesses that may not typically offer insurance tools to address the "bottom of the pyramid" of the consumer market in Kenya through a single API. Lami acts as an insurance-as-a-service provider.\u00a0 Through its API, companies can connect to a variety of insurance-related service providers to get a quotation for motor, medical, or other tailored insurance products in seconds, then customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit their needs, and get policy documents instantly. Claims are paid in record time, Lami says.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0KakBima, Bismart\u00a0\nCustomers:\u00a0Insurance companies\u00a0\nWhy they're a top digital insurance company: The company has attracted the attention of Accion Venture Labs and recently raised a total of US$1.8 million in its seed round. The company offers a flexible insurance rating engine and direct integration with several parties and insurance companies\nPineapple \nYear Founded:\u00a02016\nHeadquarters:\u00a0Johannesburg, South Africa\nCo-Founders:\u00a0Matthew Elan Smith, Ndabenhle Junior Ngulube and Marnus van Heerden\nWhat they do: Pineapple uses AI to recognise items that users wish to insure, and match them with appropriate policies. Its AI engine and mobile applications is designed to ease the often lengthy traditional process of onboarding single items for insurance.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0Kopano, MobileLife\nCustomers:\u00a0Individual customers.\n\u00a0Why they're a top digital insurance company: \u00a0Pineapple allows users to add an image on their platform and its AI will recognize it and offer an insurance premium for household items such as phones, cameras, televisions and other gadgets. The company has over 50,000 users on its platform.\nTuraco \nYear Founded:\u00a02008\n\u00a0Headquarters:\u00a0Nairobi, Kenya\n\u00a0Co-Founders:\u00a0Peter Gross, Ted Pantone\nWhat they do: Turaco is what's known as a microinsurance company, focusing on low-income people, and concentrates on providing medical insurance accessed through a mobile app. Turaco has simplified insurance products and also provides on-demand health loans, allowing customers to get healthcare at relayively low monthly premiums. It does this with partner insurance companies to serve people who are not yet insured.\nCompetitors include: Bluewave Insurance\nCustomers:\u00a0Individuals\n\u00a0Why they're a top digital insurance company: The company reportedly has 70,000 users in Kenya and Uganda where it operates. Its easy-to-use product targets poor communities and could be a game-changer for individuals who may struggle to pay for medical emergencies.\nCuracel \nYear Founded:\u00a02017\nHeadquarters:\u00a0Accra, Ghana\u00a0\nCo-Founders:\u00a0Henry Mascot, John Dada\nWhat they do: The start-up uses artificial intelligence to automate claims processing and detect fraud, hence reducing for insurance companies. Curacel focuses on health, travel and auto insurance.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0Triva, Insurerity\u00a0\nCustomers:\u00a0Insurance companies\nWhy they're a top digital insurance company: Curacel's AI engine is designed to take the pain of out of claims processing, to ensure a smooth experience for both the customer and the insurance company. With its Curacel Detection product, Insurers receive vetted claims, with indicators to show flagged, potentially fraudulent claims in a single, easy-to-navigate dashboard.\u00a0\nNaked Insure\nYear Founded:\u00a02016\nHeadquarters:\u00a0Johannesburg, South Africa\nCo-Founders:\u00a0Alex Thomson, Sumarie Greybe\nWhat they do: Naked Insure is a digital-only provider of insurance products for motor vehicles, single items such as mobile phones, cameras and laptops in South Africa. Its application and claims process is handled on its mobile application. The company founders are relying on the simple user interface of its app to attract customers by making it easy for new and current users to access services. Chatbots can guide customers to make changes to their plan and receive new quotes, without the need for a call to a service centre.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0Pineapple, Kopana\n\u00a0Customers:\u00a0Individuals and corporate customers\n\u00a0Why they're a top digital insurance company: Cover for single items ensures that individuals can guard one or two costly items, simply.The innovative company is backed by Hollard\u00a0Insurance, one of the largest short-term insurers in South Africa. It is also covered by Munich Re and Scor Re ensuring disasters are also covered.\n\u00a0ACRE Africa \nYear Founded:\u00a02009\nHeadquarters:\u00a0Nairobi, Kenya\nFounder: Syngenta Foundation\u00a0\nWhat they do: Known in full as Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise, ACRE works with insurance companies to cater to farmers by offering insurance products for their harvests. It uses rainfall data gained from satellites and automated weather stations to develop crop, livestock and index insurance products to shield farmers against unpredictable weather conditions. It uses Safaricom's Mpesa mobile money platform to send claim payments directly to the farmers' mobile wallets.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0APA Insurance, CIC Insurance, Old Mutual\nCustomers:\u00a0Individual farmers\n\u00a0Why they're a top digital insurance company: Over one million farmers have been insured by the company in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda through partnership products. Its unique proposition helps farmers avoid losses by anticipating bad weather.\nBaloon Assurance \nYear Founded:\u00a02018\n\u00a0Headquarters:\u00a0Abidjan, Ivory Coast\n\u00a0Founder:\u00a0Bertrand Vialle\nWhat they do: Baloon envisions that it can bring insurance products close to the over 1.2 billion smartphone users in Africa, 300 million of them who already are using finance payment products such as mobile money. Its strategy rests on a simple user interface for its insurance platform, accessed through computer or mobile phone. It allows users to upload a photo of themselves, choose a plan, sign up and pay via mobile money.\nCompetitors include:\u00a0None\n\u00a0Customers:\u00a0Individuals\n\u00a0Why they're a top digital insurance company: In just two years the company has grown its presence in four other countries in the West African region. These include Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon and Niger.