It tried something like this already with its ePost service, which still exists but is casually brushed aside as an underdeveloped misstep as Mr. Chopra outlines his new vision. Canadians want to visit one site to get all of their bills, Mr. Chopra insists, and right now they are forced to visit each company they do business with in order to access their statements.
“We have decided to place a bet on a business model that says Canadians are not going to sign up for 30 different websites,” he says. “I don’t want to go to 30 sites for 30 different letters. The next decade will see a lot of experiments, everyone is saying ‘Come to my site.’ But what people will say is ‘Is there someone out there with a peaceful, common-sense place where I can collect these things?’ And they will conclude that Canada Post is this place.”
The companies, meanwhile, would benefit from having a verifiable delivery system that ensures the correspondence ends up where it should. Customers wouldn’t waste their time trying to remember passwords, and they couldn’t claim the bill never showed up if they happen to miss a payment.
He calls the next 10 years “the decade of duality,” as consumers slowly and awkwardly transition from paper to pixels for the bulk of their letters. But as letter volumes decrease, he expects Canada Post’s parcel service to make up for much of the lost business. The postal service is investing in hand-held devices to simplify door-to-door parcel delivery, and is working with border authorities to make it easier for parcels to clear customs.
“Look, we are the 90-per-cent market share owner for eBay in Canada,” he says. “Nobody knows that, but it is a huge number. So let’s read the tea leaves – where should I invest? Before I arrived there was a discussion about how we should be a bank. Well, what do we know about banking? If we must grow, we should at least be thinking of businesses that we know a thing or two about.”
It all sounds a little desperate as we eat our fancy lunches inside C5 Restaurant Lounge, which is tucked inside the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. And just minutes earlier, Mr. Chopra summarized his company’s outlook by saying “if you look at the clouds, they are all dark right now.”
But he’s also a little fed up with my line of questioning, which centres around survival. Which isn’t entirely fair, since he’s the one who said Canada Post won’t exist if its unionized employees don’t cut it some slack when it comes to pensions and salaries.
So it’s slightly jarring when I ask him if he honestly believes the company will exist in another decade, and he doesn’t answer. The silence lasts a few seconds, and after taking a quick glance at the neighbouring tables he leans in to express his annoyance.
“If you were sitting with one of our competitors would you ask the same question?” he asks. “Would you ask them if they are trying to survive? Or would you ask the question about what they are doing to retool the business? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life simply surviving.”
The short answer is yes – I would ask them the same question.
But the moment has passed, and he’s regained his composure as he turns back to his history lessons. Benjamin Franklin opened his first three post offices 249 years ago, he says, and every few years since then someone has insisted the post office is doomed.
“You ask what will happen with the mail, and I see this is a natural question,” he says. “If you look at the mail’s 249-year history there have been at least a dozen times something major has happened and we keep reinventing. We are going through a change in shape and size. But can we win this war? Do we have the talent? Absolutely.”
* 48 years old
* Born in New Delhi
* Splits his time between Ottawa and Toronto. Married with two adult children.
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