2007年10月3日 星期三

Postal privatization

EDITORIAL: Postal privatization

10/03/2007

After 136 years of operating under state control, Japan's postal service on Monday started its transformation as a private-sector company. At long last, after the 2005 Lower House election was fought over this heated issue, postal privatization is becoming a reality.

Japan Post has been reorganized into a holding company wholly owned by the government--Japan Post Holdings Co. and four subsidiaries. The subsidiaries are taking over the mail, post office, banking and life insurance services that were formerly handled by the government operation.

The banking and life insurance units--Japan Post Bank Co. and Japan Post Insurance Co.--are to go private by 2017 when their shares will have been sold.

The privatization process is a radical approach that aims to shift part of the bloated national public financial burden to the private sector. We strongly urge the new Japan Post to remake itself into a "normal" company in both size and business style. This must be done quickly to ensure Japan's social and economic recovery continues.

We have already stated our concerns that both the mammoth postal bank and insurance companies are too big. Their size might hurt fair competition with private-sector rivals. The two units have combined total assets of 300 trillion yen. They are expected to reduce those assets gradually in the next 10 years until full privatization. But Japan Post's planned pace of downsizing is too slow. It needs to hurry the process along.

Japan Post is burdened with clusters of affiliated organizations and companies that have grown fat on business contracts and transactions from the postal behemoth. Their dealings have been less than transparent. The first step is to sharply slash such affiliates for more efficient and slimmed-down postal operations.

Japan Post's corporate culture and business approach also present monumental problems.

The most serious is poor legal compliance. Japan Post has been plagued by endless embezzlement and other scandals involving postal workers. Illegal business practices are rampant in postal insurance operations--postal insurance policies are often sold without the legally mandated direct meeting with the purchaser. In fact, compliance has been so poor, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has given the postal insurance service a record-low quality rating of "D." Recent evidence has also emerged that employees unlawfully destroyed documents that legally should have been preserved.

These episodes point to serious corporate ills. The new Japan Post management must ensure it competes with industry rivals in a legal and fair manner. The first test for the postal giant's compliance will be whether it starts properly explaining to customers the risks involved in its financial products.

With privatization has also come the end of government guarantees for postal savings and insurance policies--yet Japan Post will still be selling a wide range of risk-carrying financial products, such as investment trusts.

For many years, people have entrusted their savings to government-guaranteed postal accounts. Many have no understanding about risky financial products and the fact that investors can lose their initial investment principal if the market turns sour.

That makes it imperative for Japan Post to clearly offer detailed explanations about such risky investments to customers. Should troubles emerge over sales tactics, this would damage consumer trust--its reputation for reliability--and have a serious effect on its bottom line.

A government postal privatization panel will review any proposals for new services from Japan Post. If the proposed services aren't feasible, the panel will not give its approval. Key criteria for approval are whether the service follows the relevant laws and regulations and whether it ensures fair competition. Japan Post must improve its legal compliance with such services or it will never become profitable.

If the privatized Japan Post becomes a fair competitor in its banking and distribution businesses, this will stimulate rival companies in the private sector. Such a happy outcome is the original reason behind privatization. We sincerely hope Japan Post can repair its slipshod internal governance to become a thriving "normal" company.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2(IHT/Asahi: October 3,2007)

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日本郵政 變身全球最大商銀
2007/10/05

【經濟日報╱編譯廖玉玲/美聯社東京二十九日電】

日本郵政公社10月1日起正式民營化,一躍而成全球最大商業銀行,將身負帶動日本經濟的重責大任。

根據民營化計畫,日本郵政公社要以10年時間,改制為郵遞事業、保險、儲金銀行和處理員工給付及管理郵局財產等四個各自獨立的民間企業,最終目標是掛牌上市。

民營化後,日本郵政的總資產高達349.82兆日圓(3.03兆美元),一舉超越花旗集團的2.22兆美元,成為全球最大金融機構。日本三菱UFJ金融集團則以1.67兆美元的規模,排名全球第三。

日本郵政公社總裁西川善文28日在任內最後一場記者會上表示,客戶很快就可體驗到民營化後的好處。郵局服務品質會提升,還有更多新產品,總而言之就是更方便。

日本郵政機構會出現如此大幅度的變革,要從前首相小泉純一郎說起。2005年他以壓倒性勝利贏得日本首相大位,就是拜郵政改革大旗所賜。事實上,小泉早在1990年代任郵政大臣時,就強調要將郵政民營化。後來他直接把郵局改制為郵政公社,做為民營化的前身。

日本郵局經手郵務、儲金與保險三種業務,管理的儲蓄帳戶多達4億多個,遍布全國的2.45萬家支局,就像保險和投資商品的經紀商。

36歲的會計員仁科說,郵局真的是日常生活基本所需。她還不清楚郵局民營化後會變成怎樣,但希望對他們這種一般客戶不要有太大變動。

要改變這麼一個根深柢固的體系,確實相當艱困。小泉2005年要推動改革時,批評者警告民營化會縮減服務,對偏遠地區民眾的影響尤其深遠。甚至連小泉同黨議員也宣稱,這些改革其實是對一個安定、有秩序的社會,發動起另一場攻擊。

但郵政儲金有政府為後盾,所以日本民眾寧願把錢放到利率較低的郵局。但如此一來,這些儲蓄就變成死水一潭,無法活絡股市或追求報酬更高的投資。

此外,日本政府也常動用郵政儲金來從事公共工程建設,預料民營化後,這種情況也可望改善。民營化除了提高郵政服務的效率,有效利用儲蓄存款,對於帶動日本經濟將是一大助力。

日金融市場 面臨大挑戰

【經濟日報╱編譯廖玉玲綜合外電報導】

日本郵政公社挾著3兆美元的資產,投入民營市場。雖說這項改革身負活絡日本經濟的重責大任,但日本金融市場勢必也將面臨前所未見的挑戰。

日本家庭在郵局的儲蓄,幾乎占全國存款金額的四分之一;有壽險保單的日本人,約40%是郵局簡易保險的客戶。這些資金過去大多投資政府公債和低風險的商品,很少拿來放款,其資本適足率為54%,其他商業銀行僅10%左右。

日本郵局10月1日民營化後,這些資金幾乎將全數湧入市場。外界對這些資金抱以相當高的期望,認為這些錢可望投入報酬率更高的股票和基金等市場,有助於活絡日本經濟。但日本民間的商業銀行,卻擔心這些新加入的競爭對手,將享有不公平的租稅和法規優惠。例如新成立的郵政儲蓄銀行,或許較能吸引客戶。外國金融機構則擔心,他們是否能透過郵政儲蓄銀行,銷售金融商品給日本投資人。

但更令人憂心的不只是公平競爭的問題。郵政儲蓄銀行和簡易保險公司都計劃搶進高收益市場,承作房貸和新型態的保險等商品,但由於日本郵局先前是政府機構,員工對風險評估等必要流程,幾乎毫無概念和經驗。而要改變公司文化、適應市場環境,恐怕還得花一點時間。

專家擔心,雖然日本郵局的規模大到不可能垮台,但萬一真的不幸倒閉,衝擊力道恐怕會震撼全球金融市場。所以日本相關單位應該密切注意這些新事業體的發展,務必確保市場在公平的基礎上競爭,且要維持金融體系的安定。

另一個棘手的問題,則是如何讓遍及日本各地的郵局和郵遞網路,繼續維持順暢的運作,因為這些服務與一般人的日常生活息息相關。先前在政府經營下,郵局的獲利向來不如民營機構,但民營化後勢必會設法增加獲利,雖然裁員、整併是無可避免的手段,不過如何在提升效率的同時兼顧民眾的需求,是新公司面臨的一大考驗。

【2007/09/30 經濟日報】