The corona virus leads to a parcel boom. Post boss Roberto Cirillo now warns: The offer could be reduced in the next few days. He demands money from the federal government for the failures in the PostBus.
Post boss Roberto Cirillo has been in office for almost a year. He receives a conversation in the rooms of the Sihlpost in Zurich – with the required safety distance. He never expected that he would have to deal with a pandemic when he took office.
They come from Ticino. How busy are you with the local situation?
Roberto Cirillo: It is extremely worrying. Ticino is my home canton. I still have a lot of friends who live there. I am very concerned.
How is Swiss Post currently working in Ticino?
We have great difficulties, especially in the southern part of the canton. In addition, as in the whole of Switzerland, the amount of parcels has exploded in recent days. We have to look at the situation every day. At the moment, however, we can continue to operate.
How do you protect yourself as a post boss?
I often find myself almost falling back into old patterns. I have to keep reminding myself that now is not the time for meetings and meetings that can be avoided. Instead, there are video conferences and telephone calls. On the other hand, of course, I have to be present on site. We have 50,000 employees, many of whom are out and about in direct contact with customers every day. It is extremely important for them that everyone – including customers – abide by the rules of the Federal Office of Public Health and keep their distance.
How many Swiss Post employees are currently absent?
At the moment, 39 employees have tested positive for the corona virus. That is a relatively low value compared to the total population. In addition, there are employees who we sent home because they belong to the risk group or have to look after their children and have not found a solution. Overall, in addition to the usual sick leave, we also lack around 2,100 employees. This naturally leads to operational difficulties.
How do you deal with them? Are you hiring additional employees?
It would be nice if that were possible. But there is a lack of employees across Switzerland who can be outside. We have now created an internal job exchange. If you work in an area where volumes are falling, you can help out in another location. But we also have to limit services that are not part of the basic service.
Which are they?
A-Post can no longer be delivered the next day in every case. In order to be able to bring letters and parcels every day even in the event of failures, the employees come to work in stages and not all at the same time in the morning. So a whole team doesn’t drop out when someone gets sick. We have also reduced the opening hours of some branches and closed others completely because they are rented in retirement homes, for example.
The shops are closed because of the crisis. People stay at home and order online. How much do you notice?
Two weeks ago, we had a 15 percent increase in parcels over normal times. This has increased significantly again. In the meantime we are transporting as many parcels as we usually do before Christmas. On Wednesday we had the same volume as on a Black Friday. This is understandable: ordering online is the only way to get certain goods. That’s why Swiss Post is so important: thanks to us, people can stay at home and Switzerland doesn’t come to a standstill.
Can you handle the flood of packets at all?
It’s a big challenge. We may have to limit our services in the next few days if more employees are infected and the number of packages remains so large. But it helps us that we have built a new parcel center in Cadenazzo. On Thursday we were also able to put a new parcel center into operation in Ostermundigen. It allows us to sort an additional 5,000 parcels an hour. Past investments are now paying off. But nobody knows how the situation will develop.
Swiss Post also delivers groceries for Coop and Migros. The delivery windows are partially booked for weeks. The cold chain is obviously a major problem. What are you doing about it?
We currently deliver about three times as much food as usual. But we have to be realistic: it is not possible to expand this infrastructure within weeks. The companies that could supply refrigerated vehicles are not working at the moment. However, we divert funds internally wherever possible.
Will people use their current experience to order more online even after the crisis?
Those who have never made purchases online now experience this for the first time. Once this barrier is overcome, behavior can become a habit. With or without coronavirus, we expect significant growth in this area anyway.
The parcel business is considered low-margin. Do you even benefit financially from the Päckli boom?
Naturally. We can make profits in this area, but we have to invest a lot and be able to support these investments. The current crisis shows that quantities can increase very quickly. We have to be ready for that.
Speed is important in online trading. How do you ensure this?
Swiss Post is very innovative. We ourselves are involved in some start-ups, such as Notime, which tests deliver packages on the same day. The parcel market is fully liberalized. It is good that competitors are also innovative. In contrast to them, we have a basic supply contract and deliver our services throughout Switzerland on the same terms.
Due to the crisis, there are currently hardly any parcels coming from abroad to Switzerland. What are you doing about it?
Postal traffic abroad has practically collapsed. Letters and parcels from outside Europe are almost non-existent because most airlines no longer fly. In Europe it is now a matter of bringing the transport capacities that we previously had on planes onto the road or finding other solutions. We are constantly looking for opportunities. But there are almost no postal items in Europe either. I was in our center in Zurich-Mülligen on Friday afternoon. The area on which the parcels from abroad are stored was practically empty. There are still a few packages from Germany, England and Italy, but that’s it.
Many airlines have founded their fleet. Couldn’t Swiss Post work with them?
I think it unthinkable that Swiss Post rents planes on its own. The letters and parcels are mostly given to commercial flights and are currently canceled.
Large courier companies do not have these problems because they operate their own aircraft.
For a small country like Switzerland and its post office, this is not an option.
How is the mail volume currently developing?
Much fewer letters are sent. Letter volumes are closely linked to economic activity. However, we have to maintain the basic supply and we can do that thanks to the great commitment of the employees. We have a big problem with the early delivery of newspapers. Many contractors are over 65 years old, so they belong to the risk group and are not supposed to come to work at the moment. They also cannot be replaced so quickly.
The Federal Council eased the credit ban for post-finance during the crisis. Postfinance has also been able to lend CHF 500,000 to SMEs since Thursday. How did it start?
At 10 a.m. we already had over 1,000 requests on the table. In the meantime, 55 employees are only assigned to process them. We are ready. It is very important that Postfinance is allowed to participate in the lending process – especially now at the end of the month when wages are due. That is one of the main reasons why we got involved.
Postfinance has been fighting the loan ban for a long time.
The crisis is an exceptional situation. It has nothing to do with the ongoing debate. This discussion goes through the normal political process. The two things have nothing in common.
Postbus is hit hard by the crisis. The number of passengers has plummeted. This means that Postbus is once again not a pleasure …
On the contrary! Postbus plays a very important role in this crisis. Postauto has been the system leader since the beginning of the crisis and is responsible for all public transport on the road. The situation is of course difficult from an economic perspective. Postbus is not allowed to make any profit in regional traffic anyway, and now there are major failures. We expect the federal government to compensate for the failures that arise for the entire public transport industry. The most important thing now is that the public transport system is well managed in the crisis. Postbus plays a very important role here.
Will Postauto still be part of the group in 10 years?
PostBus is an important part of Swiss Post’s identity. PostBus is system-relevant for the public transport system. For us there is no question that we are sticking to the Postbus. The owner, i.e. the federal government, can still see it differently.
What is Swiss Post taking from this crisis?
I can say that we are not perfect, but we are currently striking the balancing act between ensuring the health of employees and maintaining basic care. We were completely reorganized within a few days of the extraordinary situation being announced. Our employees are very motivated. We are now also learning how to organize ourselves even faster in a crisis. What the crisis shows: The role Swiss Post plays for the Swiss economy is fundamental. So that we can continue to provide our services in two weeks and a month, we have to ensure that our employees stay healthy. Customers must adhere to the federal guidelines and also keep their distance from our employees.
Is there a need to catch up in the population?
Let’s put it this way: Just two weeks ago, we instinctively reached out to greet people. It is difficult for everyone to get used to the new rules. We always have to remember that. But they are very important. Because so that Switzerland doesn’t come to a standstill, our people have to stay healthy. Without them there is no post.