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Keith Russell


Keith Russell - Striata

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Secured with spit: PO insists letters are safer than email

02 April 2012  |  2398 views  |  2

It's not easy being a Post Office nowadays! Globally, postal services are being adversely affected by the changing communication preferences of consumers.  In the UK, the recently announced 30% increase in postage rates hints at a business model on the brink of disaster.  But it’s the state of the United States Postal Service (USPS) that highlights this issue most clearly.

The USPS lost a staggering US$8.5 billion in 2010 – that's $25 million each day! While a portion can be blamed on excessive retirement and health benefit payments, the fact is that postal mail volume has decreased by 50% over the past 10 years. This is due to the rise of email and other electronic messaging options that suit our modern lifestyle better. Sure, we probably all appreciate the sense of occasion when we receive a personal letter, but how many of us are willing to take the time to actually write and post one?

Snail mail more secure than email?

Postal services are now looking at how they can adapt to the evolving communications paradigm; searching for a niche they can fill to keep the business afloat; looking for ways to turn the tide on electronic communications. Internet security scares provide a straw for USPS to grasp at. Last year, in response to an internet security scare, they launched an advertising campaign focused on the safety and security of snail-mail; "A refrigerator [with a paper bill stuck to it with a magnet] has never been hacked," they tell us. Some USPS executives suggest focusing on the hand delivery of documents too sensitive to be entrusted to email.

Certainly web-portals can be hacked and so, there is concern that phishing attacks can compromise the security of such sites. Such security breaches can be on a massive scale, as has been recently observed. But how about secure email delivery of bills and statements, policies and other sensitive documents?

It comes down to 256-bit encryption vs. the trusty postman

The delivery of password protected, encrypted documents via email is fundamentally the safest, most secure option. Why? Because there is no central repository to hack into, and should the email somehow fall into the wrong hands, 256-bit encryption ensures that it can't be opened without the password. How long do you think a hacker would be prepared to spend to open just one eBill or eStatement, with no facility to go any further once he's "in"?

And the idea that human involvement in the delivery process is more secure than using electronic channels, is also flawed. Here in Hong Kong, we have an excellent Post Office, but in the past two weeks, I've had two letters delivered to my house by mistake. One was a credit-card bill addressed to someone in the next village – the postman clearly misread the address, and the other was an insurance policy, where the recipient name wasn't mine, but the address was – a data error at the insurance company. In both cases, I'd opened the envelopes and read the documents before I'd realized they weren't for me. In the electronic world, the credit-card statement would never have been sent to me because email servers don't "misread" email addresses, and had I received the insurance policy due to a data entry error, I wouldn't have been able to open it without the required password.

So, while I feel for the plight of the Post Office and I enjoy the friendly wave from my postman as he does his rounds, running a PR and Marketing campaign that smears email security and focuses on the delivery of sensitive documents isn't going to provide the necessary lifeline to stop the decline in postal figures.

I don't have the answer to the Post Offices' problems, but I suggest the following: if you're looking to deliver documents to your customers, sensitive or otherwise, perhaps you should consider the following questions:

• What is the fastest method of delivery available?
• What's the most cost-effective method of delivery?
• What level of security is required to ensure the safety of the data being delivered?
• What can I do to encourage my customers to adopt the most appropriate delivery channel?

TagsRetail banking

Comments: (3)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune | 03 April, 2012, 18:54

Instead of resorting to such smear campaigns against email, post offices might want to convert the manifold gains brought about by ecommerce to their parcel business into a strategic advantage. Given that postage on a parcel is 5-10X of that on a letter, these gains are not insignificant. Besides, they shouldn't forget that, while some of them languished, others like Deutsche Post capitalized on changing trends and grew from strength to strength. And also that, a lot of people - me included - still prefer to receive their bills by snail-mail only!

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John Dring
John Dring - Intel Network Services - Swindon | 04 April, 2012, 16:08

I think they need to accept that snail mail will continue to reduce, and focus their attentions on getting more of the many, many other things they can take on instead.  They are much better 'positioned' than the banks (PO in many high st's), and have the potential via connectivity, to perform many more of the types of transactions that the banks do, if only the banking regulators would let them compete.  Unfortunately, the Bankers behind the banking regulators don't seem to want this competition and would rather see the PO reduced to rubble.

Popping in to a PO to get something done is a lot easier than trying to get to a Bank branch to do the same.  Vote with your feet!


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Keith Russell
Keith Russell - Striata - Hong Kong | 10 April, 2012, 07:05

Thanks for your comments, John and Ketharaman.  Both make good points as to how the Post Offices world-wide can update their business models to better suit customers' current requirements.  Let's hope they move forward in this way...

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job title Sales Director - Asia Pacific
location Hong Kong
member since 2012
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I am working with Striata to reduce the amount of paper currently being used unnecessarily to deliver bills and statements to email users throughout Asia. I'm helping insurance companies, credit card...

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