What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Bangladesh Post Office (BPO)? 'Snail mail, stale mail, fail mail' was how a colleague of mine, who had lost a birthday gift or two sent from his friends outside the country some time ago, answers that question.
To be fair to the BPO though, he never really complained or went to the office to ask about his mail. “What's the point of going there? They will probably just tell me that it got lost midway,” he assumes.
While it is true that the BPO isn't really the first choice for many who want their mail to reach the destination fast and easy, it will be unfair to ignore the changes it has introduced over the years to keep itself relevant in today's fast-paced society.
As the World Post Day, October 9, beckons, Star Weekend visits the General Post Office in Dhaka in order to better understand its evolution. The following are a few changes that the BPO has made in the last few years that have not only helped the office stay afloat but also increase its revenue many folds:
Digital Bulk Mail Service
When corporate companies or banks need to dispatch letters in the count of lakhs to their clients they generally prefer using courier companies to complete their tasks for a number of reasons. For one, they are reliable, and secondly, they don't have to take the hassle of sticking stamps on each of the envelopes. However, since July of this year a number of companies have begun using the Bangladesh Post Office for such Bulk Mail services because of the creation of a digital platform where clients can register online and book bulk mail at the BPO.
In the past, the BPO was forced to reject thousands of bulk mail simply because officials weren't able to manually put stamps on each of the envelopes in time. For instance, one operator can manually stick up to 250 stamps a day and the rest of the mails are, therefore, returned. But now the companies are given access to Franking stamp machines, which can be used to stick stamps on each of the envelopes in a very short period of time.
According to the Director-General of BPO, Susanta Kumar Mandal, the usage of the digital bulk mail service by three companies alone, which includes Brac Bank, alone has helped the BPO earn BDT 50 lakhs per month. Brac Bank uses the BPO to dispatch its half-yearly Bank statement letters to its clients.
Mandal is of the opinion that the introduction of the digital system can compel more companies to use the BPO for such bulk mail services since they can offer the service to them at half the rate of other courier companies.
Introduction of Cash Cards
While the usage of cash cards from the Bangladesh Post Office may not be very popular in the capital, it is, however, one of the few mediums that the government uses to dispatch funds to people living in remote areas. According to Mandal, the BPO dispatched BDT 2200 crore to six lakh women, deserving of the funds, in remote areas in the last three years. The ones who need to receive the funding initially have to go through biometric registration. After that, they are given cards. Once a month, a team from the BPO visits these remote areas in order to dispatch the money. They set up a makeshift ATM at a school where the women can come in and take the money with the help of their cash cards. The advantage of these cash cards is that no extra money is charged for withdrawal as opposed to some other services. In addition, the BPO has struck a deal with a garments factory for paying the salary of their workers through cash cards. If the pilot project goes well, they might further expand the project.
Digital International Postal Account
Say for instance, if someone from Bangladesh needs to send a package to Kenya, it has to go through United Kingdom, and the Bangladesh Post Office will need to pay the British Post Office for its services. Similarly if the British Post Office sends 200 packages to Bangladesh and in return if the Bangladesh Post Office sends 100 packages to the UK, the British Post Office will have to pay transfer fees worth 100 packages to Bangladesh.
This entire give-and-take is noted down in the International Postal Account (IPA) of each and every postal service in the world. At the end of each month, the deficit is paid. Recently, the BPO created a digital system to make the entire process smoother. Prior to that, officers would have to manually note down every entry and that, according to Mandal, sometimes led to mistakes, which later had to be corrected.
Strengthening the system for foreign mail delivery
In the past, the cash-strapped BPO often faced problems delivering their packages abroad because they couldn't pay their dues to airlines such as Biman Bangladesh which carried the mail. In addition, the packages also couldn't reach the airport office in time for flights. However, the situation, according to officials from both Biman and BPO, seems to have improved. The dues are met in time and a proper system has been created to ensure that the packages reach the airport office in time for the respective flights. The increment of the salaries of those who sort the mail and ensure that the packages reach the airport on time is one aspect that helped improve the system. For example, sorters used to get just Tk 20, according to Mandal, for every three hours of work on weekends. It just goes on to show their dire situation. “The mail that we send abroad costs less than any other courier service and they reach in time. You can challenge me on that,” says BPO Director-General Susanta Kumar Mandal when asked about the issue.
System to improve the work ethic of postmen
Delivery Performance= 100 x Number of posts delivered/Total number of posts received - [Total delivered - (Delivery kept for next day + Total number of posts returned)]
No, this article on the Bangladesh Post Office hasn't suddenly turned into an algebra lecture. The above formula is actually what the BPO will soon follow in order to 'improve the work ethic of postmen' says Mandal. They have already applied it in Chittagong and two postmen who had a percentage below 60 were show-caused.
“You need strategies to build up places. This is one of my strategies to ensure that the quality of delivery is good. Based on the numbers I get here, I can assess the quality not only in Dhaka, but everywhere in Bangladesh. It's a good way to observe,” says Mandal.
October 9 is celebrated as the World Post Day. The event marks the anniversary of the Universal Postal Union's (UPU) creation back in 1874. It's because of the existence of the UPU today that people around the world are able to exchange mail with such ease.
The organisation has defined set rules for the exchanges among its 192 member countries and continues to set policies based on its three pillars: innovation, integration and inclusion.
At a time when communication landscapes are constantly changing, it won't be a surprise if addressing the first pillar of the UPU, for postal unions around the world, turns out to be difficult. In a world that's surpassing one digital boundary after the other, how does the postal service remain relevant? Or rather, how much can they 'innovate' to remain relevant?
Follow Naimul Karim @naimonthefield