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Saving the Post Office
Posted on Aug 14, 2012
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt
India’s Post Office Savings Bank (POSB):
POSB is India’s largest banking institution and its oldest, having been established in the latter half of the 19th century. The Department of Posts is now seeking to expand from savings and small banking services to a full-fledged bank that would offer full lending and investing services.
The head of the highly successful state-owned Sberbank has stepped down to take on the task of revitalizing the Russian post office and create a post office bank. PochtaBank will operate in the Russian Post’s 40,000 local post offices.
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Brazil instituted a postal banking system in 2002 on a public/private model, with the national postal service (ECT) forming a partnership with the nation’s largest private bank (Bradesco) to provide financial services at post offices. The current partnership is with Bank of Brazil.
The U.S. Postal Savings System:
The now-defunct U.S. Postal Savings System was also quite successful in its day. It was set up in 1911 to get money out of hiding, attract the savings of immigrants, provide safe depositories for people who had lost confidence in private banks, and furnish depositories with convenient hours. Deposits ranged from $1 to $2,500, and the postal system paid 2% interest on them. It issued U.S. Postal Savings Bonds that paid annual interest, as well as Postal Savings Certificates and domestic money orders. Postal savings peaked in 1947 at almost $3.4 billion.
The U.S. Postal Savings System was shut down in 1967, not because it was inefficient but because it became unnecessary after its profitability became apparent. Private banks then captured the market, raising their interest rates and offering the same governmental guarantees that the postal savings system had.
Today, the market of the underbanked has grown again, including about one in four U.S. households according to a 2009 FDIC survey. Without access to conventional financial services, people turn to bill pay, prepaid debit cards and check cashing services, and payday loans. They pay excessive fees for basic financial services and are susceptible to high-cost predatory lenders. On average, a payday borrower pays back $800 for a $300 loan, with $500 going just toward interest.
Another underserviced market is the rural population. In May 2012, a move to shutter 3,700 low-revenue post offices was halted only by months of dissent from rural states and their lawmakers. Banking services are also more limited for farmers following the 2008 financial crisis.
Countries such as Russia and India are exploring full-fledged lending services through their post offices; but if lending to the underbanked seems too risky, a U.S. postal bank could follow the lead of Japan Post and use the credit generated from its deposits to buy government bonds. That could still make the bank a win-win-win, providing income for the post office, safe and inexpensive depository and checking services for the underbanked, and a reliable source of public funding for the government.
Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute. In “Web of Debt,” her latest of 11 books, she shows how a private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are Web of Debt and Ellen Brown.com.
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