on Jul 6th, 2009 in Strategy & Public Policy | 27 comments
In developing countries, postal services are often critical to reaching a vast underprivileged populace. How do posts in these countries cope with the tension between their universal service obligation and financial viability? A look at today’s India Post offers some insights. First founded under British colonial rule 150 years ago, India Post connects India’s people through a network of more than 150,000 post offices. More than 80 percent of these post offices are in rural areas, where residents primarily depend on postal services to communicate with the outside world. In India’s urban areas, however, middle class consumers have options. They also rely on the professional services of private couriers or the Internet. India Post has shown consistent losses. In recent years, private-sector competitors have siphoned off revenue, and costs have risen dramatically. Not surprisingly, given its financial difficulties, India Post’s widespread rural presence has drawn a lot of criticism. The Indian Government subsidizes more than half the cost of rural post offices, but they are still unprofitable. Critics argue that many are unnecessary and should be closed. Another common prescription for India Post’s losses is privatization. Proponents believe that privatization would improve the quality of services. To improve its financial condition, India Post is experimenting with options such as providing investment and emailing services to customers in rural areas. It already runs the largest savings bank, with a customer base of more than 170 million people. Rural and urban post offices also offer a variety of insurance products. Another initiative is micro-finance. In some rural areas, India Post offers loans to small businesses that may be denied credit by mainstream banks. Many of these services have helped offset India Post’s losses while at the same time providing financial services in deprived areas. There is hope for India Post’s future profitability. India has experienced phenomenal economic growth in recent years, and as a result, there is great potential for growth in postal services. To capitalize on the opportunities of India’s economic progress, India Post is trying to cater to the demands of the growing business sector by providing international money transfers and other services. In urban areas, India Post is exploring providing access to ATMs and non-postal retail services like train and bus reservations. India Post could also consider expanding these types of services to rural areas. The rural population would greatly benefit from these and other services such as faxes and electronic money orders. There are many options for India Post to leverage its network. By improving its infrastructure, technology, and customer service, India Post can continue its important role in India’s economy. What kind of a business model should India Post adopt? Do you think India Post’s experience providing universal service has any lessons for the United States Postal Service? This blog is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).