The Swiss Post should act in a socially responsible way when it comes to future closures of post offices, according to public oversight body PostCom which argues that profitability should not trump regional needs.
The classic image of the Swiss village, built around a bell tower and a post office, seems to belong more and more to the past. In the 1970s, over 4,100 post offices were spread throughout the country. Even in 2000, there were still 3,500. Since then, however, restructuring plans have whittled this figure down to 1,400.
Now, in a new wave of streamlining, Swiss Post plans to slim down by another 500 offices, to be replaced by agencies (outsourced post offices). The announcements made in recent weeks by the so-called “Yellow Giant” have led to a chorus of protests by trade unions, consumer groups, citizens, and politicians.
On Tuesday, Hans Hollenstein, president of PostCom, a public oversight commission, told journalists that his group was watching the closures closely. Though any decision regarding which offices – and in which regions – are to be closed is taken solely by Swiss Post, the watchdog has raised concerns about future closures that could harm regional balance.
People over profit
Notably, PostCom said that decisions should not solely be founded on profitability. Priorities should be defined region by region, it said, based on the specific needs of each. These needs should be then met by using the best combination of the diverse means available – post office, letter box depots, automatic parcel collection, etc.
This said, Swiss Post largely meets the standards set to measure an effective public service. According to the terms, at least 90% of the population should be able to access a post office or agency, walking or using public transport, in a maximum of 20 minutes. The current figure, according to PostCom, stands at 94.3% accessibility.
The report also comes just days after a decision by Parliament to approve a motion demanding that Swiss Post structure its activities in a way that assures logistical services in each region. Communications Minister Doris Leuthard called the service “the best in Europe”, referring to a recent study by the Universal Postal Union.
Changing times for the postman
The continuing reorganisation of Swiss Post comes as digitalisation and communication shifts have changed the role of post offices. The traffic of letters has decreased by 63% since 2000, while payments made at post offices have decreased by 37%.
And despite the strong expansion of online commerce, parcel delivery has also almost halved. The liberalisation of this sector — Swiss post operates a monopoly only on letters below 50 grams — has opened it up to new competitors from both outside and inside the country.
In response to the changes, Swiss Post has not only downsized in terms of offices and operations, but has changed the services on offer. Today, entering a post office, the range of goods on sale move from computers to tablets to mobile phones – ironically, the very products that brought about the decline of traditional postal activities.
In 2016, Swiss Post recorded a significant profit of CHF558 million ($579 million). However, these earnings come mainly from the services of PostFinance – the financial arm of Swiss Post. Traditional postal services recorded a loss of CHF200 million.
swissinfo.ch/dos with input from Armando Mombelli