What’s the future for postal operators? (2024)

Postal Economics Conference 2024

What’s the future for postal operators? (1)

On April 4-5 in Toulouse, La Poste Groupe and TSE organized the 12th edition of the Postal Economics Conference.

This scientific event brought together prominent researchers, experts, policymakers, and key players around a wide range of topics related to the postal sector.

It focused on the role of postal operators in addressing major transitions reshaping our societies: population aging, digitization of the economy and society, and climate change.

As part of the long-running partnership between La Poste Groupe and TSE that began in 1993, this conference was originally dedicated to research on postal sector regulation and universal service in a context of market liberalization. Since 2014, its scope has expanded to include the digital economy, media, and e-commerce.

The 12th edition of this biennial conference was organized around academic presentations (27 research papers were presented across 12 parallel sessions), two keynote lectures, and a roundtable, the succinct summary of which follows.

What’s the future for postal operators? (2)Roundtable: "Postal services in 2050"

Chaired by TSE’s Nobel laureate Jean Tirole, this multidisciplinary roundtable brought together experts in geography and urban planning, the economics of aging, and the anthropology of digital technology.
Philippe Wahl (CEO of La Poste Groupe) also made important contributions, stressing that the future of postal operators depends on their social utility. While their traditional role may be disappearing as electronic media replaces mail delivery, the La Poste Groupe CEO insisted that postal workers can still offer valuable services. As it wrestles with the major challenges affecting our societies – including population aging, digitization, climate change, and regional divergence – La Poste engages with the work of leading researchers to ensure that its strategy aligns with the needs of society.

Building bridges
In its commitment to local services, Philippe Wahl insisted that the La Poste Groupemust adapt its presence on the ground to changes occurring across French regions.
To achieve territorial cohesion, said Martin Vanier (Paris School of Urban Planning), France faces a triple challenge:
• Manage "overpopulated" urban areas, especially in Île-de-France, Alsace, coastal regions, and along the Rhône River.
• Manage "empty", marginalized areas that lack access to good services, notably along a strip from the northeast to southwest.
• Build a society that brings these two Frances together.
In response, we must reconstruct our biased representations of rural and urban France, taking into account diverse lifestyles and reinventing policies for regional development and cohesion.

What’s the future for postal operators? (3)Protect the elderly

While Germany and Finland have a similar aging dynamic, France’s demographic transition differs from countries like Japan: it began early, has developed slowly, and is focused at the top of the age pyramid. French population aging should peak around 2035, said Agnès Gramain (University of Lorraine), with the number of elderly people in need of long-term care expected to reach 3.6 million by 2050.
This aging phenomenon is accompanied by migration towards rural areas that attract younger retirees (around 60 years old) and people in search of cheaper nursing homes. However, population aging also affects "young" and densely populated municipalities, where elderly people are not always a priority for local authorities. There is an urgent need for infrastructure for the elderly, especially in urban areas, given projections of a sharp increase in the number of people with disabilities living at home1.
Thanks to their human network of proximity, established relationships of trust, and their ability to adapt to local issues, postal operators have an essential role in "reaching out" to people with reduced mobility.
"The mail carrier is the preferred person for the elderly, and postal workers have the 'soft skills' to work with the people. They have a feel for others, a taste for contact. They are willing – and proud – to deliver new missions," says Philippe Wahl, who recalled that La Poste also delivers meals and medicines, is actively engaged in detecting and protecting vulnerable individuals2, fights against non-use of rights, and builds social ties.

Digital services
Postal workers’ soft skills will also be crucial to face the digital challenge. Nearly 10% of French adults are not connected to the internet and many others struggle to perform everyday online activities. If we account for users’ different profiles and experience, said Pascal Plantard (University of Rennes 2), nearly half of the population (48%) is in a "digital fragility zone".
La Poste Groupe strives to support vulnerable citizens through workshops on digital uses and education on responsible practices, noted Philippe Wahl. It often accompanies individuals as a trusted third party: for example, by offering certified digital identities, a digital safe (Digiposte), and a sovereign cloud service (NumSpot).

Green alternatives
Since 2008, the group has reduced its carbon footprint by 34%, avoiding the emission of 17 million tons. It has committed to achieving "net zero" by 2040, 10 years ahead of the goals set by the Paris Agreement, based on a trajectory validated by the Science Based Targets initiative.
Philippe Wahl reaffirmed that La Poste is ready to put its human, physical, and digital networks at the service of public policies, whether local or national, to accompany French society through the demographic, digital and ecological transitions it faces today. Providing services for the Common Good does not mean providing services for free, at a loss. These services have a cost that must be fairly compensated by the direct beneficiary of the service when possible, or by public authorities. Otherwise, we risk the viability of the company and its services. We must balance profitable and responsible growth to meet 21st-century challenges, within a competitive framework based on merit.

[1] Today, around 10% of people aged 75 or older live in nursing homes (EHPAD). To maintain this level of care, we need to create at least 10,000 new nursing home places per year until 2050. However, the French government plans to cap the creation of new places at 2,000 per year.
[2] Specifically trained postal workers participated in information-gathering experiments led by Professor Vellas, as part of the ICOPE program.

Interview published inTSE Reflect, May 2024

Photos ©Studio Tchiz, Unsplash

What’s the future for postal operators? (2024)


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