Program has been strongly opposed by credit union and other financial trade groups.
The U.S. Postal Service’s pilot financial services program sold a mere seven gift cards between Sept. 13, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, and it remains in limbo as regulators try to figure out what to do with it.
In any event, the program has not been a huge profit generator for the perpetually cash-strapped Postal Service, producing just $41.65 in total revenue during that time, according to a report filed this week with the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The USPS contends that the pilot is not a banking program, which would be prohibited under federal law.
However, the commission questioned that assertion back in May, and has yet to issue a ruling on the matter.
The pilot program was launched at USPS retail locations in September of 2021 in the Washington, DC; Falls Church, VA; Baltimore, MD; and Bronx, NY areas. Customers in these locations may cash a paycheck to purchase a single-use gift card for up to $500. Checks larger than that are not accepted, and no cash is disbursed.
No formal announcement of the program was made, but officials said it was part of the service’s ten-year improvement plan.
Opposition From CU and Bank Groups
Some critics of the pilot, including credit union trade groups, contend that the sales program is a step in the direction of postal banking, which they oppose. Other critics—those who support postal banking—contend that because the USPS has not publicized the program, it is an inadequate test of the concept.
In May, the commission said it was starting a “mail classification proceeding” to review the pilot. A few groups submitted comments to the commission, including the American Bankers Association, which expressed its opposition.
What Comes Next?
Last week, the commission sent the Postal Service a list of questions about the pilot.
In response, the USPS said, “It is difficult to determine the future plans for the pilot program, or to assess its potential advantages and disadvantages, until it is clear what actions the Commission will take … regarding the provision of this additional optional form of payment for gift cards.”
Service officials added, “the Commission’s initiation of a proceeding to evaluate and potentially terminate this initiative has created uncertainty surrounding continuation of this alternative payment method for the Gift Card product offering.”
The USPS noted further it had developed a “product roadmap” including potential expansion of the project, but that given the regulatory uncertainty, it would be premature to dedicate resources for additional investment in it.