The post office is on the move: Once it only brought letters and parcels, now it wants to do a lot more.

Image: keystone

Swiss Post buys company after company and has reserved an impressive 1.5 billion Swiss francs for it. Now resistance is stirring.

11.09.2021, 13:0411.09.2021, 13:30

Florence Vuichard / ch media

Roberto Cirillo did not cheat, on the contrary: the post manager laid his cards openly on the table – and did so on May 14, 2020, when he presented his strategy for the “post of tomorrow”. With this he wants to bring the state shrinking company back on the growth path, not least with takeovers.

Only nobody looked so closely. Otherwise, not everyone would be so amazed if the post hit: with the digital administration aid Klara, with the cloud provider Tresorit or with the advertising marketer Livesystems. And that’s just the beginning: Cirillo has reserved a total of 1.5 billion francs for acquisitions – from companies from the traditional logistics sector, but also from undefined, digital realms in which the Post has high hopes.

Private outdoor advertisers are going on the offensive

Post boss Roberto Cirillo wants to bring his group back on a growth path with acquisitions.

Post boss Roberto Cirillo wants to bring his group back on a growth path with acquisitions.

PICTURED: KEYSTONE

But now resistance is stirring. For example with the outdoor advertisers. She was startled by the Livesystems takeover. The fear of APG, Clear Channel and Neo Advertising, which belongs to the media group TX Group: Your comparatively small competitor could now – thanks to the postal state guarantee – bid uninhibited in public tenders for the digital and analog billboards in train stations, airports or bus stations.

And if the advertised income is not achieved, Swiss Post could shell out the difference, while private competitors would have to pay for the guaranteed sum themselves in bad years.

Live systems with advertising screens in public transport, at petrol stations and outside are – according to the Post’s narrative – a kind of digital translation of a core business of Swiss Post: the physical distribution of addressed and unaddressed advertising in the mailboxes.

At the same time, however, it is also an expansion of business, from individually delivered advertising brochures to poster-like mass advertising. Swiss Post does not deny this, but emphasizes that customers wanted both – and preferably from a single source.

A purchase price that is worth talking about

And the Post is trying to calm the competition: “Livesystems can only take part in tenders that it finances on its own,” says Oliver Egger, who is responsible for advertising in the Post Group and is now also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Livesystems that has just been taken over. “The Post will not be liable for any amounts in the millions.”

The price of over 100 million francs, which the Post allegedly paid “personally”, is also causing astonishment. Egger neither wants to confirm nor deny the price. In the industry, however, everyone agrees that the price mentioned would be far too high for a company that would “only” hold a share of around 10 percent of the CHF 400 million outdoor advertising market.

But it wouldn’t be the first time that Swiss Post miscalculated when looking for new, digital sources of income. Like Swisscom, it has invested around millions of francs in the electronic patient record. Without success.

An expert opinion identifies a need for legislative action

The competition mistrusts the post office and prefers to play it safe. The Association of Outdoor Advertising in Switzerland has therefore commissioned law professor Urs Saxer to provide an expert opinion that is available to “Switzerland on the weekend”.

Councilor of States Beat Rieder wants to put the state-owned companies in their place.

Councilor of States Beat Rieder wants to put the state-owned companies in their place.

Image: keystone

His conclusion: “Offering a digital infrastructure for advertising and communication is not one of the tasks of Swiss Post.” The practice of the Federal Supreme Court is not strict, but Saxer states: “Such activities need a legal basis.”

So it is a good thing that the Council of States Beat Rieder (center) and Andrea Caroni (FDP) are ready with a motion: They call on the Federal Council to propose changes to the law “to curb distortions of competition by state-owned companies” and – against the will of the Federal Council – Already cleared the first hurdle: The Economic Commission has approved the matter, on September 30th it will be the turn of the Council of States.

It is not the first attempt by politicians to put the state-owned companies in their place. But so far all efforts have failed because there are no simple solutions, but also because the resistance has only manifested itself regionally. But this time it’s different: Post is national. No region, no digital business area should be spared from Cirillo’s shopping tour. The resentment is correspondingly great, one entrepreneur speaks of a “mess”.

Fight for the digital mailbox

One person who has gained experience with the Post as a competitor is Peax founder Stefan Hermann. His company operates digital mailboxes on behalf of companies and private individuals: Your mail is redirected to Peax, scanned there and stored in the desired digital mailbox. Swiss Post has also tried its hand at this discipline, has spent millions of francs – and ultimately never found a green branch with E-Post Office.

Now, with the help of the Klara takeover, it is making a new attempt: the Neo-Post subsidiary has also been offering a digital mailbox since July 2021 – at a price that does not cover costs for competitors, as Hermann emphasizes. This is below the mail forwarding costs that Peax has to obtain from the Post at standard costs.

The private postal competitors are now hoping for politics – and for new rules of the game. Otherwise, for them, Roberto Cirillo’s “Post of Tomorrow” will be a post without tomorrow. (aargauerzeitung.ch)

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