• on Jul 20th, 2015 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Elvis is back in the building! Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service previewed the new Elvis Presley stamp that will be released in August as part of the popular music icons series of commemorative stamps that include the likes of Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. 

    As the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. And his enormous star power certainly carried over to his stamp. Elvis mania helped make the original Elvis stamp, issued in 1993, the most popular commemorative stamp of all time, according to the National Postal Museum. 

    Given that history, will the new stamp featuring a 1955 photograph of the King be another top seller?

    Elvis isn’t the only celestial body making postage stamp news this month. Also getting attention is the 1991 Pluto stamp, which scientists affixed to NASA’s New Horizons probe that just made contact with the dwarf planet. According to a recent Washington Post blog, when the stamp was designed as part of a planetary set, Pluto was the only planet that lacked a robotic companion – no spacecraft had ever been sent to explore it. So there was no American robot to show off in the stamp illustration like for the other planets. Instead, the words “Pluto, not yet explored” were put on the stamp. Some scientists said they saw this as a sort of “call to arms” to explore Pluto. 

    Now that Pluto is getting its day in the sun, so to speak, the Pluto stamp is too – even if its words are no longer true. A few years ago, the New Horizons team petitioned the Postal Service for a new stamp but there’s no word on whether that will happen.

    Stamps hold a unique place in American culture, which may be why so many people feel strongly about what should or shouldn’t be on them. Our previous blog on the Harry Potter stamp drew a record number of comments. The stamp was controversial because, for one reason, the subject matter – a British wizard created by a British novelist – wasn’t strictly American.

    Well, Elvis and the U.S. space program are as American as apple pie. So their stamps are not likely to be nearly as controversial. Still, here’s your chance to weigh in with your favorite stamp and what others you might like to see.   

  • on May 25th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 54 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 May 1st, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    Here’s the good news: Mailers accept and support the U.S. Postal Service’s Seamless Acceptance (SA) program. And here’s the bad news: Implementing the program hasn’t been very seamless.

    Ongoing data integrity problems, among other concerns, have delayed full implementation of the program. We found evidence of inaccuracy in the data and mailers raised similar concerns, prompting them to ignore the data, according to our recent audit report.

    Not the most auspicious start to a program designed to increase the efficiency of commercial mail entry, verification, and payment. Still, everyone involved wants the program to succeed. SA is expected to make mail acceptance faster and less complex, standardize the acceptance and verification process, and allow for a trend-based quality measurement system.

    Seamless Acceptance uses electronic documentation from a commercial mailer, intelligent mail barcodes, and various scanning devices to verify that the letter and flat mail a mailer is entering meets the Postal Service’s acceptance thresholds and that proper postage is collected. Twenty-nine major mailers have volunteered to participate in SA, tendering about 1.7 billion mailpieces each month. Another 288 mailers volunteered to participate in a preparatory phase of the program known as Seamless Parallel, which helps introduce mailers to SA.

    Our recent audit report noted that while the Postal Service has reported progress in implementing SA, delays continue due to ongoing data integrity issues, as well as customer service and communications hurdles. The Postal Service’s initial goal was to have the full SA program in place by last September. But a series of delays has pushed that date back to July 2015. Notably, problems remain with the scorecard data provided to mailers; postal staff members have limited access to relevant reports and data; and there is inconsistent communication between the Postal Service and participating mailers.

    If you are a commercial mailer currently participating in SA, what are you seeing in terms of data quality, customer service, and communication? If you are not a current participant, are you interested in joining the SA program? If not, what is holding you back?

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