• on Jan 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 12 comments

    Could the U.S. Postal Service help the nearly 70 million Americans who are cut off in some way from the mainstream financial system? We’re talking about people who, because they lack ready or full access to normal banking services, paid $89 billion in fees and interest to alternative financial service outlets such as payday lenders and check cashers in 2012 alone. They are the financially underserved – also known as the underbanked or unbanked – and many of them are one unexpected expense away from bankruptcy or homelessness.

    According to our recently released white paper, Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved, not only can the Postal Service help the financially underserved, but it is also well-suited to the task. For starters, the Postal Service network extends to every community across the country. And while the Postal Service already offers money orders and international money transfers, the paper identifies a suite of additional services and products the Postal Service could develop, mainly through partnerships with banks:

    • Payment services
    • Reloadable prepaid cards
    • Options for mobile transactions
    • Access to small loans

    By offering these kinds of services, the Postal Service could help bring financial stability to millions of Americans. It could also generate income: Even if only 10 percent of the money paid in interest and fees were instead spent on less-expensive Postal Service alternatives, the Postal Service would realize $8.9 billion in new revenue.

    Moreover, when you consider that 59 percent of post offices are located in ZIP Codes that have only one bank or none at all, and that surveys repeatedly demonstrate the public’s unmatched trust in the Postal Service, developing non-bank financial services would not only meet a market need, but also fulfill a public purpose.

    What do you think? What types of non-bank financial services could the Postal Service provide to help address the needs of the underserved? 

  • on Jan 13th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    What if the U.S. Postal Service tapped the vast array of available digital information technologies to enhance sales, operations, and new business development? The possibilities, it would seem, while not endless, are fairly extensive.

    That’s the conclusion of a just-released white paper from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), which collaborated with IBM to take a high-level view of digital information gathering to see where the postal industry might benefit. The white paper, Enriching Postal Information: Applications for Tomorrow’s Technologies, identifies those opportunities most relevant to the postal industry. We found more than 50 potential postal applications where gathering digital information could enhance the Postal Service’s sales, operations, and new product development, as well as improve its internal safety and security controls. Such items include banking services, traffic information, and assistance to elderly citizens.

    A few highlights from the paper:

    • Cutting-edge organizations see digital information technology only as a means to satisfy market demands and control costs. Such organizations are focusing on mobile handhelds, barcodes, and Radio Frequency Identification applications to collect data about their customers and operations. Many are consistently researching and investing in a wide variety of information gathering technologies. For example, UPS invests more than $1 billion annually to design customer-centric applications, customized scanning tools, and advanced communication devices, as well as, to increase internal efficiencies.
    • The Postal Service is also exploring the potential of mobile devices but on a much smaller scale than UPS. For example, the Postal Service recently gave cell phones capable of texting and gathering real-time GPS data to about 95 percent of its street letter carriers. The information being collected should improve delivery efficiencies via better route designs, day-to-day adjustments, and monitoring delivery times. The Postal Service is planning to deploy 75,000 full-service digital mobile carrier devices by the summer of 2014.

    So what information would you like the Postal Service to gather for you? How would you put it to use? Are there any areas of information technology that concern you? 

  • on Dec 11th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    Wouldn’t it be nice to receive only the advertising mail that interests you? Information about products and services you like or want to learn about, and nothing else? And wouldn’t it be nice for advertisers to know more about what recipients think about their ads? Is an offer appealing, but the timing is not right, or is a recipient completely uninterested?

    Creating a system to share this information is a possibility, and the U.S. Postal Service could play a key role in making it happen. That’s the concept of a new white paper released by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General today. Strengthening Advertising Mail by Building a Digital Information Market highlights the importance of maintaining and strengthening advertising mail by enabling more direct communication from mail recipients ultimately back to the advertiser.

    Ad mailings could then be targeted with almost pinpoint accuracy, increasing revenues for advertisers and reducing recycling for everyone. The system would benefit the Postal Service, too, by making ad mail even more relevant and valuable.

    One potential approach starts with using a smart phone or tablet to scan a digital code on the front of a piece of ad mail you receive, and then accessing an interactive system into which you can record your advertising preferences. In return, you are sent a coupon redeemable for merchandise from a variety of vendors, and in the future you would receive ads tailored to products and services of interest to you. Participation would be strictly voluntary, and privacy guidelines would be established.

    Tell us what you think! Do you think customers would be inclined to access an interactive system to record advertising preferences if it meant special offers or more targeted mailings in the future? 

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