Digitization of Post Offices Key to Filling Financial Inclusion Gaps
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the lack of financial inclusion around the world. Yet the crisis has also furthered innovative and outside-the-box solutions to increase accessibility to financial services, especially in unbanked areas. One of them is digitizing and utilizing post offices.
The role of the post office has been steadily diminishing over the last few decades, with volumes of international letter-post items continuing to decline by 3% per year. However, according to Mindaugas Glodas, CEO at NRD Companies, a global IT and consulting group, post offices have remained vital information and services centers in rural, underserved areas, which makes them a perfect tool for promoting financial inclusion.
“Posts can be an intermediary for citizens and small businesses in remote areas who need to make the financial operations like remittances and bill payments necessary for sustaining their activities,” said Mr Glodas. “Post offices have been functioning this way in cities for quite some time, and it is time to transform posts in rural areas. This would make a huge positive impact on the economy as a whole, inviting more people to engage in economic activities and creating jobs.”
However, according to Mr Glodas, this can only be achieved if post offices undergo a full digital makeover, which means implementing the necessary technical systems to offer new, digital financial services, as well as retrain the postal staff.
“There are three growth areas where post offices should pay the most attention,” said Mr Glodas. “The first one is improving and rediscovering new financial services like creating and extending the remittance service capability and offering bill payment options. The second one has to do with transforming the post office into a public service hub and delivering public services like declaration of residence. The final one involves seeing the post office as a critical part of growing e-commerce, collaborating with multiple logistics providers, acting as of parcel drop-off and pick-up in specific locations.”
Some form of such transformation has been seen in some parts of rural Africa. For example, sending remittances through the post office to migrant workers’ families in remote Africa is one of the most used financial services. Digitization of the service in Benin, Ghana, Madagascar, and Senegal reduced the cost of sending remittances via post offices by 42%, as well as opened the door for a wider selection of financial services, which contributed to increased financial inclusion.
Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, NRD Companies has implemented KASU POST, a postal counter solution that enables a range of non-postal services, e.g. financial operations, as well. Using KASU, the Kyrgyz Post has launched a new money transfer service called “PosTransfer”, enabling migrants to transfer funds back to their relatives at home, living in remote regions with no access to financial services. Currently, the service is provided by more than 400 thousand post offices in Kyrgyzstan, while in Russia the number is over 30 thousand, with the transfer limit in both countries capped at 300 thousand rubles.
“Post offices in Kyrgyzstan have been able to quickly organize the implementation of third-party payment service providers and offer customers a wide range of financial services,” said Mr Glodas. “The centralization and digitization of all state-owned post offices have also reduced the number of paper-based processes and ensured smooth procedures. At the end of the day, this has helped tremendously with opening access to financial services to thousands of people.”