Opinion: Postal Sector needs E-commerce and Digitalization to be profitable


Postal operators need to wake up to their true potential and start using their enormous reserves of data, vast logistical fleets and infrastructure to lead the world on e-commerce, financial inclusivity and economic development.“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” said Charles Dickens, but for the world’s postal operators, it must sometimes appear that the good times are gone.

Controversies simmering in the United States and elsewhere over remuneration rates for packages, accusations that postal operators are delivering deadly drugs, and woes over earnings, haunt the industry. There is, however, an alternative view that we may be on the cusp of dynamic changes.

As the head of the United Nations specialised agency for the postal sector, the Universal Postal Union, I recently returned from the 2018 World CEO Forum bringing together postal chief executive officers in Istanbul, Turkey.

The event’s theme was the digital dividend, but from the panel sessions, I sensed a growing belief among some CEOs that there were reasons to feel positive and confident. Here’s why.

Postal services, for many years, have been pinned down; caught between their essential duties under an international treaty to provide a universal postal service — one network of networks delivering letters and parcels to everyone on this planet — and turning a decent profit in the age of austerity.

Too often, burdened by the contrary impulses to provide a much-needed public service, while delivering in a world of competition, innovation and creativity, the postal sector has been forced into a defensive crouch — a boxer mercilessly pushed into the corner.

It’s time to get out of the corner. With more than five million employees, more than 600,000 outlets and more than 300 billion letters and parcels delivered annually, the global postal sector is a colossus, a sleeping giant.

Leveraging that vast infrastructure, as well as burnishing the post’s trusted brand is the task of every postal operator. The post is, after all, synonymous with the word “trust”.

Seizing the incredible opportunities offered by e-commerce and digitalisation is also the means for posts to start a new age of delivery, a new postal future.

A service based this time not on letters and parcels, but on accessing the enormous amounts of data held by postal operators and building unrivalled customer-relationship-management tools to give people what they want.

It is in financial inclusivity where the postal sector can make its most telling difference and be profitable. In almost every country, there are people and small businesses who are unable to access financial services and the global e-commerce market.

Millions are forced into taking pay-day loans or keeping their savings in unsafe places. This situation needs to end and the Universal Postal Union intends to be at the forefront of the efforts to resolve this problem.

Over hundreds of years, through wars, disease and famine, the world’s posts have proudly delivered letters and parcels.

That struggle for a unique, uniform network is almost over, but there is a new fight. The inclusion of two billion people who currently stand outside the world’s financial system and pay a disastrous penalty for doing so. It is a fight we are well-positioned to win.

The postal sector is already a global network; a powerful alliance capable of helping the unbanked and under-served, while wholeheartedly embracing ecommerce and digitalisation to become profitable.

Bishar A. Hussein is the director-general of the Universal Postal Union