Financial inclusion is a topic of increasing interest on the international policy agenda. Last week the Universal Postal Union (UPU) hosted the 2013 Global Forum on Financial Inclusion for Development. With over a billion people using the postal sector for savings and deposit accounts and a widespread presence in rural and poor areas, post offices (or “posts”) can play a leading role in advancing financial inclusion. In Brazil more than 10 million bank accounts were opened between 2002 and 2011 after the post established Banco Postal in partnership with an existing financial institution. However, leveraging the large physical network of the post is not without challenges. Posts generally have little or no expertise in running a bank and the business model that a government pursues in providing financial services through the postal network may be critical to its success.
In the old times, the post office was the main connector between cities and villages, moving letters and money to every corner of the country, and contributing towards the territorial consolidation of states under construction.
Nowadays in developing countries, the post office is often seen as an old, inefficient, deficit-making, and outdated public service which has not been able to keep up with the evolving markets. It takes some imagination to see the post office as a potential engine for economic growth and social inclusion.
We have just released a Migration and Development brief prepared by our colleagues Jose Anson and Nils Clotteau of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) based in Berne, Switzerland. There are an estimated 660,000 post offices in the world, larger than all bank branches combined. In this brief, Jose and Nils explore the role that postal networks can play in providing money transfers (remittances) and basic financial services to low-income people living in developing countries, in particular those in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.