Postal sector leaders emphasize digital transformation, collaboration in sustainability

The UPU’s World Leaders Forum had postal sector leaders gather online to discuss driving the Post’s role in facilitating sustainable global trade.

Opening the forum, Deputy Director General Pascal Clivaz noted the day’s theme – “One Ocean – Many Currents: Facilitating Sustainable Global Trade” – would have speakers touch on “the biggest issue of our time: climate change.” He added it would also provide a chance to highlight the sector’s response to the pandemic.
The Forum’s first panel gathered industry insights from CEOs in different regions. They remarked that the pandemic had further accelerated the decline of the traditional letters business, forcing them to prioritize digitization and diversification, and manage services with fewer resources.
Singapore Post CEO Vincent Phang remarked that, “Covid has accelerated the inevitable changes facing the postal sector.” He described his organization’s “Future of the Post” project, which includes a raft of newly digitized services.
Automation and digital tools has also helped Iceland Post increase services while cutting costs, explained CEO Þórhildur Ólöf Helgadóttir. She emphasized the necessity of global electronic advance data (EAD) in meeting new needs and decreasing the costs imposed by manual errors. Correos de Mexico Director General Rocío Bárcena echoed the increased importance of traceability across the market.
Bringing in the perspective of small island developing states, Post Fiji CEO, Anirudha Bansod described how disruptions to international postal traffic the Post to reevaluate its portfolio of services. As a result, the Post was able to focus on new and necessary services, such as grocery delivery and insurance.
New Zealand Post CEO David Walsh pointed towards increased communication with customers and the collection of data to determine what services should be prioritized.
Sustainability in focus
The second panel collected inputs from PostNord President and Group CEO Annemarie Gardshol, An Post CEO David McRedmond and UPU Director of Policy, Regulation and Markets Siva Somasundram, on sustainability within the sector. They remarked on the importance of collaboration across the supply chain and among stakeholders.
To illustrate this. Ms. Gardshol described a PostNord project to develop more streamlined e-commerce packaging to prevent waste which included working with partners across the logistics chain, as well as academics. The concept is now being tested with a local telecommunications provider.
“Sustainability is built around a holistic approach,” added Mr. McRedmond, who noted the importance of engaging governments, businesses and civil society on the issue. While he noted that it was within the postal culture to “act in the common good,” he suggested that the sector’s work was challenged by the rise of the “gig economy,” which he said could shirk labour laws and sustainability best practices to offer their services at a much lower cost.
From the UPU perspective, Mr. Somasundram added that it was important for posts to consider the deeply interconnected nature of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their sustainability programmes.
“The climate actions we take must also support our contribution to social and economic sustainability initiatives we’re undertaking,” he said, adding that the UPU was in the best position to act as a platform to coordinate action on the SDGs.
Transformation, trust and partners
The last panel of the day had industry experts reflect on the journey ahead, touching on the need for digital transformation, potential to leverage trust in the Post and the necessity of partners.
Brody Buhler, CEO of Escher Group, noted that a new kind of customer experience would be required as the parcels market grows. He noted that control, insight, visibility and interaction were becoming imperative parts of the customer experience as customers rely heavily on mobile services coming out of the pandemic.
Speaking from his role as the Chair of the UPU’s Postal Operations Council, La Poste’s Jean-Paul Forceville added that this work must proceed faster on the international level. He suggested that more advanced countries should work to help those who are less advanced adopt the necessary practices and tools to offer services expected by global customers. This would entail investments in technology as well.
The private sector could also be a resource for best practices and tools to help Posts foster digital inclusion of their customers, added Mike Froman, a Vice Chairman and President of Strategic Growth at Mastercard. He added that private sector expertise could help maintain trust as the Post branches into new dimensions.
Tomaž Kokot, CEO of the Slovenian Post, noted that respect and open communication with employees would help build on that trusted relationship with customers, who view postal employees as “the face of the State.”
Panelists noted that partnerships and trust among all stakeholders would also be key to their work on sustainability across the sector.

Ms. Helgadóttir, who rejoined the last panel, added that customers should be partners in the Posts sustainability initiatives. They would have to accept that the way they receive their parcels may change as Posts work to reduce their carbon footprint.