• on May 25th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 61 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service is best known for delivering the mail. But did you know it’s also the number one seller of the most widely used type of alternative financial service in the United States? We’re talking about money orders, which function like prepaid checks. The Postal Service sold a whopping 97 million of them with a face value of $21 billion in fiscal year 2014.

    The Postal Service also offers international money transfers, prepaid gift cards, and limited check cashing. From 1911 to 1967, it even offered savings accounts through the Postal Savings System, which prompted millions of Americans to move a portion of their nest eggs from under the mattress into savings accounts.  

    In our recent white paper, The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services, we explore how the Postal Service could expand its financial offerings to benefit Americans and generate much needed new revenue. (This is a follow-up to our January 2014 paper, Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved.) We hired financial consultancy Mercator Advisory Group to help us look at the pros and cons of several different approaches the Postal Service could take. But we dove deepest into what it probably is allowed to do under current law; namely, beef up and improve existing products and expand into adjacent, related services like payroll check cashing, domestic electronic money transfers between post offices, and walk-up bill paying. Our analysis shows that – assuming Postal Regulatory Commission approval – a suite of these potentially allowable products could, after a 5-year ramp-up, bring in $1.1 billion in annual revenue while covering costs and contributing profits.

    We welcome your input. 

    • Should the Postal Service look at new business lines that are not directly related to mail and delivery?
    •  Which financial products do you think the Postal Service should provide? 
    • What do you think are the biggest barriers to success in postal financial services?  
  • on Jan 5th, 2015 in OIG | 17 comments

    The year 2014 was certainly historic on the postal and logistics front. Alibaba entered the U.S. market with a bang, setting a record with the largest ever U.S. initial public offering. For the first time ever, non-mail revenues exceeded mail revenues for postal administrations around the world. Shippers braced for the full effect of dimensional weight pricing. And the U.S. Postal Service added its name to the growing list of agencies and companies to suffer a data breach.

    All in all, quite an eventful year. OIG staff sifted through the news and put together a top 10 list of postal stories, in reverse order of impact. Share your thoughts and take our poll to vote for your top story.

    10. Staples Taps Out – Under pressure from labor groups, Staples and the Postal Service ended a pilot program to set up mini-post offices in stores. Instead, the 82 Staples pilot locations transitioned into the Postal Service’s long-established Approved Shipper Program, which offers some postal products alongside those of other carriers.

    9. Open Sesame! – China’s biggest e-commerce company Alibaba set a record for the largest U.S. initial public offering ever, raising $25 billion. Alibaba’s CEO said the company plans “aggressive expansion” in the U.S. With any luck, the Postal Service will figure out how to partner with Alibaba too.

    8. Dim Weighting on Shippers – FedEx and UPS announced plans to price all ground parcels based on how much space they take up during transport, a concept known as dimensional weight, or dim weight, pricing. Analysts predict this change will result in the most dramatic rate-spike for shippers in decades. Meanwhile, the Postal Service bucked the trend and lowered most commercial Priority Mail prices in 2014, a move aimed at gaining commercial customers.

    7. A Capital Idea – For the first time in years, the Postal Service has funds to invest in capital projects. Helped by the exigent price increase in January 2014, the Postal Service ended the fiscal year with $1.4 billion in “controllable” income and said it has about $2 billion for capital investment.  

    6. Postal Banking Gets Fresh Look – A raft of media coverage of an OIG paper on postal financial services energizes a lively public policy debate, including a slew of conferences, and puts the idea of postal banking on the menu of possible reforms.

    5. Invasion of the Last Mile – Last mile delivery has gotten crowded with retail giants, such as Walmart and Nordstrom, trying their hands at same-day delivery and/or experimenting with crowdshipping. And smaller players are providing niche delivery services, such as Peapod for grocery delivery or Deliv that shuttles goods from shopping malls to customers.

    4. Amazon Eyes World Domination – The giant e-commerce provider is moving into all aspects of the supply chain and beyond, opening warehouses and distribution centers, offering same-day delivery, testing drones, using bikes, providing cloud services, and after-sales support services. Amazon is also a valuable partner of the Postal Service, collaborating on Sunday delivery and the new grocery delivery test.

    3. New Champion of the World – Non-mail revenues now exceed mail revenues for postal organizations around the world, according to Accenture’s annual report on high-performing posts. This shift indicates how important parcels and other diversified products - representing 52 percent of posts' total revenues - have become to posts.

    2. Madame Postmaster General – Postal Service Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan is named to succeed retiring Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. Brennan will be the first female PMG in the Postal Service’s 240-year history.

    1. Hack Attack – The Postal Service joins the growing list of government agencies and corporations to experience a data breach and the repercussions that come with it, including a congressional hearing, customer and employee concern, and some corporate soul-searching. There were almost 61,000 cyber attacks and security breaches across the entire federal government last year, according to a recent White House report. 

  • 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?