Tuesday 28 December 2021

UPU NEWS : Changing the latitude of the postal business

Post Fiji CEO Dr Anirudha Bansod tells Union Postale what’s new and next for the small island postal operator, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021.

Sometimes, you have to see what’s missing in order to envision what could be possible.
That’s what happened when Post Fiji’s CEO, Dr Anirudha Bansod, walked through a post office and noticed the shelves that normally held stationary were bare. While pandemic shortages played a part, he realized that stationary is a highly seasonal product serving schools and businesses for only a few months out of the year.
Bansod envisioned those shelves stocked year-round with products that would serve the community and protect the future of the Post—products like eggs and bread.
“The postal service is definitely under a lot of strain,” Bansod said, citing the double challenge of declining mail and the effects of the pandemic. While these challenges were felt worldwide, Fiji, as a small island developing nation, was particularly susceptible as borders closed and flights to the islands came to a halt.
“I feel strongly that you can transform, you can diversify, you can change the whole latitude of the postal business in such a direction that it can be sustainable, and it can keep on giving the great services to the community,” Bansod said.
To address the steep decline in revenue while also providing essential services, Post Fiji implemented a diversification strategy that so far includes offerings in three completely new sectors, the first of which is groceries.
“It is how you rejuvenate your business that is very important, how you think outside the box or utilize the current resources,” Bansod said.
The key to Post Fiji’s success in its new ventures is tapping the resources of the experts already operating in those sectors. The Post invited grocery manufacturers and suppliers to help Post Fiji create a sustainable, revenue-generating concept that is essentially a minimart within post shops.
“That really helped us to sustain during the COVID times,” Bansod said.
Post Fiji went on to collaborate with insurance providers to launch a new line of insurance products, including life and auto insurance.
“We asked the insurance company to train our people, and then I worked with the staff, worked out the margin Post Fiji would be getting, what sort of paperwork is required,” he said. “That really worked well.”
And by early 2022, Post Fiji plans to branch out into one more new territory—fuel.
A product of Fiji’s colonial past, small post offices sit on large plots of land. Bansod imagined that the Post could utilize the real estate in a way that will once again serve the community and help sustain the Post into the changing future.
In partnership with an oil and gas company, Post Fiji plans to install fuel pumps on post office land. The project is expected to begin in February or March.
“A lot of people think that the post business is almost dying,” Bansod said. “I'm not one of them. … Transformation is not an easy task. If we don't change, if we don't transform, we will be left behind from the world.”
Change management
Not all of the staff are on board with the change in direction that Post Fiji has taken. More seasoned staff who have served the community for decades may struggle to make the transition. However, Bansod said younger staff members who have been faster to take to the changes are leading the way and showing those who are reluctant what can be accomplished.
Bansod’s vision for change doesn’t end with product offerings. From raising prices to addressing the impact of the rising oceans due to climate change, flexibility and service is all part of Bansod’s focus.
He increased prices while facing opposition for the effort by linking any price increase to direct value that the customer experiences.
“Any price increase needs to be justified,” Bansod said, as opposed to arbitrary increases.
Rising sea levels, being a direct threat to the country surrounded by the oceans, also play a part in Post Fiji’s operations strategy. The Post is working to reduce its carbon footprint as much as possible.
“This is why in many of the post shops we have put up solar panels and we are trying to use alternative energy resources where we can, especially in the maritime areas,” he said.
The Post’s shops are also undergoing physical makeovers. Throughout the island nation, the Post is renovating its offices, modernizing and creating comfortable spaces with lounge areas in which customers may feel welcome. It is also installing computer and video services that will help customers complete their business efficiently without having to wait in line, Bansod said.
Investments needed
Still, for small island developing states, technology is a balancing act. It can streamline business for the customer and for the Post. Yet the investments required for technologies, such as package tracking programs, can be cost-prohibitive.
“On one side, you want to have all the technologies,” Bansod said. “But at the same time, you have to see whether it is worth it for such a small business to adopt such a huge technology implementation.”
Bansod said Post Fiji is in a better position than some developing nations to implement new technologies. Fiji’s government has worked hard to invest in resources for the country. This strategy could allow Post Fiji, which has its own e-commerce technology for example, to be a resource for other Pacific island nations. Rather than investing to create their own software solutions or purchase them from larger developed countries, Post Fiji could be their provider.
He would also like to see Post Fiji become the Pacific hub for supply chain and logistics services.
While Post Fiji is focused on the future, for a while this winter, Post Fiji is also celebrating its past. December 2021 marks the post’s 150th anniversary and there are celebrations planned across the islands.
“Each and every person of the organization created part of the foundation to establish this great institute,” he said. “It's a proud moment for the Fiji, as well as the Pacific nations, that we can achieve 150 years.”

This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Union Postale.

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