Head of the Doctrine and Modeling Department
Regulation, Competition, and Institutional Relations division
La Poste Groupe
Claire Borsenberger completed her PhD in economics at TSE in 2004. She began her career at the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. She joined La Poste Groupe 15 years ago and now heads its Doctrine and Modeling department within the Regulation, Competition, and Institutional Relations division (DRCRi). Claire has also kept one foot in the academic world, overseeing the company’s long-standing research partnership with TSE.
What is the role of the Doctrine and Modeling Department within La Poste Groupe?
The department that I have had the pleasure of leading for more than 10 years now is part of the Department of Regulation, Competition, and Institutional Relations (DRCRi), a department at La Poste Groupe's head office, which is attached to the General Manager of “Public Service and Regulation”.
The department aims to promote and defend La Poste Groupe's interests with our institutional partners (ministries, cross-functional professional organizations, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council, etc.), our national regulatory authorities (Arcep, the Competition Authority, Cour des comptes, etc.) and European institutions.
It is responsible for the regulatory accounting used to cost all our products according to the rules established by the regulator and the competition authorities as well as assessing the cost of our public service missions. It advises the business units on their pricing practices. It also contributes to discussions on the future of La Poste Groupe in light of market trends, the usefulness of our public service missions, and the positive impact that a public company must have on society.
To fulfil these missions, the department draws on economic theory, ad-hoc techno-economic models, and in-depth quantitative analysis. It oversees the development of La Poste Groupe's economic doctrine regarding sectoral regulations, competition law and public policies, in close collaboration with other departments, and with the input of research laboratories such as TSE.
How have TSE researchers helped La Poste Groupe respond to the rise of e-commerce and the digital revolution?
Digitalization, which has led to an unprecedented decrease in mail volumes, is both a challenge and a vast field of opportunities. New players are disrupting our markets, raising the game, and changing the competitive landscape.1 But digital technology is also driving improvements in our processes and the development of new activities, such as delivery of e-commerce parcels. These transformations bring new questions, and we need the tools of economics to answer them.
In 2013, we began work with TSE researchers, in particular Helmuth Cremer, Philippe de Donder, Jean-Marie Lozachmeur and Estelle Malavolti, to better understand the relationships between parcel delivery operators and e-commerce platforms, the strategies of the different links in this value chain, and their impacts on collective well-being.
We have, for example, studied the consequences of the creation of a "marketplace" by an online retailer on the market power of a dominant parcel delivery operator.2 We have also shown that the benefits of vertical integration in the e-commerce sector could be wiped out by the negative effects of market monopolization and that "selective" vertical integration, focused on urban areas that are less costly to serve, could be particularly damaging to the common good.3
Elsewhere, we have shown that vertical integration of an online retailer and a delivery operator can encourage coupling and foreclosure practices, which are socially harmful when they lead to the exit of independent players.4 From the perspective of the common good, we have shown that dismantling such an entity is only the right solution if the efficiencies generated by a vertically integrated marketplace are relatively small.5 If they are large, it is preferable to impose data-sharing obligations to improve the delivery process of all operators and ensure a level playing field.
What are the benefits of the partnership between TSE and La Poste Groupe which reaches its 30th anniversary this year?
There are many benefits. First, the work carried out feeds our internal reflections and informs the company's strategy. Here, I would like to pay tribute to the econometricians who have collaborated with us for 30 years: Cathy Cazals, Eric Gautier, Nour Meddahi, Jean-Pierre Florens and Frédérique Fève. For example, econometric analysis of the costs and efficiency of postal processes has enabled us to correctly size our industrial apparatus; studies on household and business demand for postal products have allowed us to adapt our pricing to changes in demand; more recently, econometric work has enabled us to anticipate post-Covid business volumes.
Second, this work has contributed to structuring postal regulation at the European and national levels. It has also helped to define the European framework for the calculation of the net cost of services of general economic interest, which determines the level of state aid for the providers of these services.6
This work also allows us to participate in the debates and decision-making on regulation of platforms and use of data. Fortunately, the European Union is ahead of the pack on these subjects of direct concern to the future of postal operators.
More generally, this partnership allows La Poste Groupe to participate as a corporate citizen in the development of a center of world-class economic expertise, for the common good. And finally, it allows the company to attract talent.
These benefits, as well as the personal relationships built over the past three decades, based on respect, listening, trust and high standards, motivate us to continue the adventure for many years to come.
On which subjects do you want to focus on the future?
We have already begun to "clear" new ground on environmental issues, aiming to inform the public debate and our strategy in the general interest. For example, we have shown that in a competitive parcel delivery market, it is in the interest of operators to "spontaneously" reveal their CO2 emissions, allowing the "environmental awareness" of consumers to mitigate market inefficiency. This reinforces La Poste Groupe's desire to help consumers make informed choices (via eco-calculators, for example).7
In the future, theoretical and econometric work could aim to better understand the drivers of demand for parcel delivery services as well as the cost structure (including environmental costs) of existing delivery networks and different delivery methods. This could highlight inaccurate preconceptions (such as the fact that home delivery generates more negative externalities than out-of-home delivery) or determine the conditions under which a mutualized system of goods delivery in the city is socially optimal.
The question of the usefulness of La Poste Groupe's public service missions and general activities will be at the heart of the forthcoming research carried out with TSE researchers, given that La Poste Groupe wishes to be a company with a positive impact on society at a time when its historic core business is being destabilized by the decline in mail volumes and visits to its points of contact.
In the field of medical and social care, we are already working on prevention policies and the detection of fragility, which will be a major issue in the coming decades. Targeting such policies correctly presupposes that the fragility of the population is known upstream. Postal operators, who have a unique "infrastructure" of human proximity, can provide this knowledge to the public authorities using simple surveys. By asking new theoretical questions, we help to reexamine the social value of postal operators in light of new needs.
You completed your PhD at TSE before joining the Ministry of Economy and Finance and then La Poste Groupe. How would you compare these experiences?
Writing a thesis and a ministerial brief are two very different exercises, if only in terms of production deadlines and the intended audiences. But they are also complementary. My PhD years taught me to conceptualize and formalize economic problems. My years at the Ministry, meanwhile, taught me to mobilize theoretical lessons to analyze very concrete situations and to recommend policy orientations.
These experiences led me to my current position at La Poste Groupe, halfway between academic research and corporate strategy. It is the juxtaposition of these two "worlds" that makes the work so interesting and explains why, after almost 16 years, I am just as passionate about my role at La Poste Groupe!
You did your PhD at TSE under the supervision of Jean Tirole. What are your most striking memories of these years?
I cannot thank Helmuth Cremer enough for giving me the opportunity to do a thesis, delivering "on a platter" not only funding but also a PhD supervisor, when I was hesitating to continue my studies for financial reasons. And how can I thank Jean Tirole who, without really knowing me, agreed to supervise my work. This gives an idea of Jean's personality: helpful, a good listener, and willing to go out of his way... Among the things that most impressed me were the extent of Jean’s knowledge and the flash of his analytical mind. Thinking that he would not have known about a paper because it had just been published and he was working on other subjects, I was often amazed to realize that he had read the paper and understood it better than I did.
His legendary modesty and humility are very real qualities that make him a researcher, a teacher, and person of excellent value.
Do you have any career advice for the next generation of TSE graduates?
Make the most of the exceptional setting offered by this prestigious school to develop your analytical mind, in contact not only with professors at the cutting edge of thinking in many fields but also with TSE's partner companies.
And why not put your skills and the knowledge you have acquired towards the common good, by gaining real-world experience and becoming a company economist?
(1) Between 2008 and 2022, mail volumes delivered by La Poste decreased by 63%, from 17.6 billion items to 6.5 billion items.
(2) C. Borsenberger, H. Cremer, D. Joram and J-M. Lozachmeur (2016), “Pricing of delivery services and the emergence of marketplace platforms”, TSE Working Papers n° 16-686.
(3) C. Borsenberger, H. Cremer, D. Joram and J-M. Lozachmeur (2018), “Vertical Integration in the E-Commerce Sector”, TSE Working Paper n° 18-919.
(4) C. Borsenberger, H. Cremer, D. Joram, J-M. Lozachmeur and E. Malavolti (2019), “Platform competition: market structure and pricing”, TSE Working Papers n° 19-1010.
(5) C. Borsenberger, H. Cremer, D. Joram, J-M. Lozachmeur and E. Malavolti (2020), “Data and the regulation of e-commerce: data sharing vs. dismantling”, TSE Working Paper n° 20-1094.
(6) H. Cremer, A. Grimaud, and J.J. Laffont, “The Cost of Universal Service in the Postal Sector”, in Current Directions in Postal Reform, Michael A. Crew, and Paul R. Kleindorfer (eds.), Springer, series “Topics in Regulatory Economics and Policy”, vol. 35, chapter 3, 2000, pp. 47–68; H. Cremer, F. Gasmi, A. Grimaud, and J.J. Laffont (2001), “Universal service: an economic perspective”, Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 72(1), 5-43.
(7) C. Borsenberger, H. Cremer, D. Joram, J-M. Lozachmeur and E. Malavolti (2022), “E-commerce and parcel delivery: environmental policy with green consumers”, TSE Working Paper n° 22-1318.
Interview published in TSE Reflect, January 2023