Can Gates Save the Italian Postal System?

The Italian government, following a conference on the privatization of the national postal service, announced last week that it would call on Bill Gates for possible solutions and enhancements to its aged and inefficient postal system.

“We will meet the head of Microsoft next Thursday [September 10] to explore the possible development of electronic mail and financial transactions,” explained Corrado Passera, administrative director of Poste Spa.

The objective of Poste Spa, a private company formed to take over the
nation’s postal service, is to increase profits through expanded and
enhanced services. In recent years, under state control, the postal system lost an average of $1.4 billion a year. The attraction for private investors is, therefore, extremely limited.

“We don’t want to raise postal rates,” explained a company spokesperson, “nor alter the physical structure of the Italian postal service.” What Poste Spa does want is to offer additional and faster computer-based services through Internet access.

Unlike some countries, the Italian postal service provides a vast array of financial services in addition to mail delivery. Each month, for instance, millions of Italians receive their pensions and salaries at the post office. Hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses have savings deposit plans with the post office. In addition, one can pay state and local taxes, utility bills, traffic tickets, or purchase state bonds and certificates at Post Spa locations.

“Remember that [we maintain] $147.6 billion in savings accounts and take in $400 million in payments each year, while the entire banking system takes in only $171 million,” said Passera.

“By the end of next year, we want a network connecting 14,000 service windows, rather than the 1,200 currently in existence. Of the $2.57 billion projected investment over the next five years, $571 million will go towards computer technology and services.”

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