The SA Post Office continues to be dogged by perceptions that it is a dinosaur, yet closer examination reveals this is far from the truth.
In the past few years, the Post Office has developed an IT and service strategy that allows it to build on its core business as a provider of postal services while embracing the opportunities presented by the Internet era. This has led to the development of products that meet the needs of large corporate customers and those of its unbanked and largely unconnected customers.
New products include Hybrid mail which enables customers to e-mail or SMS communications through to the Post Office. These are printed and delivered from a site closest to the final destination. Others are Pay-A-Bill, for third party payments, and Truebill, an electronic bill presentment service. In addition, the Post Office continues to provide public Internet terminals in branches in remote rural areas.
But it is the Post Office's Paymaster to the Nation service that has arguably had the greatest effect on its target audience.
Government pensions and grants are usually paid out in cash on specific days at specific offices. In the North West Province, the Post Office has introduced a system that provides social pensioners with a Postbank account and a smart card. On payday, the social services grant is paid into each individual account and pensioners can withdraw their pensions at their leisure at any Post Office or automatic teller machine.
The majority of social benefit recipients find it difficult to meet the requirements of a traditional bank account. Using biometrics and encoding technology, the Post Office developed a secure bank card with a chip (which contains the thumbprint and ID photo of the pensioner in encoded form), magnetic stripe and a signature strip.
The Post Office has introduced additional functions such as "I'm alive" confirmations, where the beneficiary is authenticated annually by verifying the live fingerprint with the fingerprint stored on the chip. This reduces the potential for fraud.
A clearer understanding of the needs of its customers has produced results where it counts. In 2001 the parastatal produced an operating loss of R577,4m. By March 2004 this had been turned into a profit of R15m.