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Of letters and post

  • Published at 06:11 pm October 11th, 2018
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Photo: Pixabay

Are post offices becoming redundant?

There are many romanticized images that one might conjure upon hearing the word 'post.' They are inclusive of, but not limited to: A father stationed many miles away sitting at his desk, fountain pen in hand, writing to his family at home; pen pals sharing their lives with each other solely via letters; or lovers, separated by a distance, expressing their deepest sentiments burning the midnight oil. 

Other, less personal accounts may include both business and political correspondences exchanged between officials across borders that have done much to mould the world into what it is today. 

These are perhaps tales of a bygone era, as the anticipation of receiving hard-copy mail has been replaced by the instantly gratifying ping of notifications and most matters of the professional world are dealt with through emails. The modern world has made it clear it does not have time for anything that is neither quick nor easy. 

While the postal department handled a whopping 41 crore ordinary letters in the period 1983-84, that number dropped down to a mere five crore during 2015-16. Like an ancient, once powerful steam-powered train, it may appear as if the world of post is sometimes coughing and wheezing clouds of smoke - seemingly in the last leg of its life - as it struggles to keep up with a reality that is tripping over itself with the strides it makes in technological advancement. 

However, is that really the case? With World Post Day passing us by on October 9, certainly, some exploration is warranted. 

Expanding horizons and the changing roles of post offices

With the passing of The Post (Amendment) Act in 2010, the postal department has been able to digitize a number of services. Examples include digital bulk mail services - where corporate companies or banks can register online to book bulk mail at the Bangladesh Post Office and have hundreds and thousands of letters dispatched at half the rate of other courier companies - and the development of a digital system relating to the International Postal Account (IPA) that makes postal communication across borders more seamless.

Additionally, a handful of rural post offices have been turned into e-centres, providing services such as internet surfing, remittance transfer, educational research, filling up university application forms, etc.

The postal department also offers an array of financial services. Since the passing of the act in 2010, it has launched Electronic Money Transfer Services (EMTS), which was initially very successful, but soon met with overwhelming competition from services such as bKash. Late in 2016, it partnered up with Banglalink to upgrade their mobile financial services and increase accessibility. The service is currently available across 2,750 post offices.In addition to the more recent EMTS, they have long been providing services such as post office savings bank scheme, savings certificate, money order, postal order, and postal insurance. 

Postal Cash Cards - akin to debit cards - are yet another service that they provide. They can be used at ATM booths or outlets under the Qcash network. Whilst this service isn’t widely popular, users of this card include beneficiaries in remote areas who receive funds under social programs and a small fraction of garments workers who receive their salaries. Plans to make this service more popular are ongoing. 

As with any of the services the postal department chooses to offer, their main advantage lies in their reach. With a network of 9,886 operational post offices around the country, they have the benefits of expansive outreach and established stations. They are, in this aspect, well-equipped to take their services to even the most remote areas of the nation and make remarkable progress in improving general accessibility. 

They realized this of course, and aimed to use this upper hand to tap into the e-commerce market, with hopes that by 2021 they can become a leading market entity. In December 2016, they started delivering products sold on e-commerce sites across the city with plans to soon expand the service to the divisional and district levels. From October 15, 2018, this service is to be available at the district and sub-district levels.

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