An Post latest business in line for ‘rightsizing’

Instead of making post offices more relevant and profitable, we seem certain to wield axe

An Post is the latest group to feel the cloying breath of “rightsizing”.

David McRedmond, the former head of TV3, is not yet six months in the job, but he has wasted no time making Government fully aware of the scale of the financial crisis facing the State postal service.

And, having hiked the price of stamps to buy himself a little time, his focus is now clearly on the network of post offices dotted across the State, particularly smaller outlets in rural areas.

The news comes as Ulster Bank mulls plans to axe more than a quarter of its branches in the Republic. It is, in many ways, merely catching up with the other main banks, which are already further down this road.

The dispassionate view of analysts is that this is the inevitable outcome of what one referred to as “structural shifts in communications and banking that have occurred in recent years”.

Citing the example of AIB, McRedmond goes on to cite the evidence in plain English: over-the-counter transactions have reduced by 56 per cent in the past four years, as many customers have migrated to mobile and online channels.

There is no reason to doubt the figure, but, as with all such numbers, one needs to balance the issues of cause and effect.

The financial services sector would have us believe that people have proactively transferred to online banking platforms.

Not clearcut

The truth is not as clearcut. It has become increasingly difficult to physically conduct over-the-counter services at most branches of Ireland’s main banks, and the banks have very deliberately made it so, as they look to reduce their overheads – particularly staff costs.

And they have done so despite the valid fears of some about security – in light of the often cavalier approach of online business to security of customer data – and other, especially older, customers’ concerns about their ability to deal with the technology.

In the case of An Post, the position is exacerbated by the fact that most of the imperilled post offices will likely be in villages and towns where banks have already withdrawn services – save for ATMs and, in the case of AIB, Ulster Bank and Danske, service offered through An Post itself.

But, instead of looking at how we can make post offices more relevant, and profitable, we seem certain simply to wield the axe. Welcome to rightsizing.