"By the time you get around to thinking about your occupational pension, it may be too late."

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"By the time you get around to thinking about your occupational pension, it may be too late."

Insureds who make bad decisions regarding their occupational pension may be affected by the consequences for the rest of their lives. To educate the public and help people avoid these mistakes, our pension experts Manuel Gerhard and Carlo Hitz volunteer for BVG-Auskünfte, a non-profit source of pension information.
BVG-Auskünfte is an independent, non-profit provider of free consultations throughout Switzerland on everything concerning occupational pensions. The organization’s advisers are volunteers who furthermore support the association through their membership fees. The non-profit also receives sponsorship funding from many different pension funds, banks, associations, consulting firms and insurance companies, including Zurich and Vita. Zurich and Vita also offer a comparable service for businesses interested in doing more for their staff: Vita Mobil info seminars for employees. We interviewed the two experts to find out what it’s all about.

You have been involved with occupational pensions for many years, including as an active member of BVG-Auskünfte, the independent provider of free pension information. Can you think of a consultation session you have had that stands out as particularly interesting or moving?

Manuel Gerhard: There’s something unique about every consultation, because the issues involved are highly individual in nature. And that’s what makes being active in BVG-Auskünfte so enjoyable. I recall, in particular, consultations with employees who receive termination notice shortly before retirement, after over 20 years with their employer. In one case, the employee took a payout of her vested benefits, which disqualified her from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. To avoid things like that, it is essential to seek advice from BVG-Auskünfte as early as possible.

Carlo Hitz: Sixteen years ago, I was driving home after a meeting with Martin Hubatka, who was the Chairman of the Foundation Board at that time, and he was telling me about how he had founded a non-profit organization providing free consultations for pension fund insureds; he was the organization chair and offered consultations himself there. As we drove on for a bit and he told me more about it, I really got enthused by the idea, and I’ve been involved ever since.
I’ve had many memorable counseling sessions and heard several moving stories. I recall, in particular, an elderly woman who had worked all her life, but only part-time. She wanted me to tell her what her pension would look like. She only worked part-time, so she had no money in the pension fund, and she was unable to save privately. Her pension outlook was, therefore, not good, and right before retirement there’s not much time left to do anything about it. Her only option was to apply for welfare assistance and supplementary benefits from the local government. Conversations like that really give me pause.

What kind of questions do people usually ask? What are the important issues for people when talking about retirement pensions?

Manuel Gerhard: It occurs fairly often that people face a challenging situation when they receive a termination notice just before retiring, and they have a lot of questions about how their retirement pension will be affected. Under Article 47a of the Occupational Pensions Act (BVG), which came into effect at the end of 2020, pension plan insureds over the age 58 get to remain within their pension scheme if they are terminated. This gives them breathing space to plan their next retirement steps properly. However, the insured usually do not know about it, which makes our task all the more important. Flexible retirement options are another important topic that people are interested in finding out about.

Carlo Hitz: We get quite an array of questions, it would be hard to categorize them all. I get a lot questions about pension benefit buy-ins (for topping up), the conversion rate, working after the age of 65, invalidity insurance benefits and lump sum versus pension payout. Self-employed individuals sometimes come to us and ask what they should do if no pension fund will accept them. Everyone has their own unique life situation, so everybody has different needs, and you could go on and on, listing all the questions we get. Many people have already obtained information from their pension fund and now are looking for a reliable second opinion from us as an independent non-profit.

3) How well-informed are people in general?

Manuel Gerhard: Generally speaking they are not well-informed. But that is understandable to some extent, because nothing about social security and occupational pensions, in particular, is taught at school, nor is the public broadly educated at any point later on. There is much to be done in terms of education. The non-profit mission of BVG-Auskünfte is to close these knowledge gaps. We only reach a fraction of the population, unfortunately, but I think it’s great how Zurich and Vita are involved in these efforts. Every single person we are able to inform and educate is a win for us.

Carlo Hitz: I would agree that people are not well-informed, lacking a grasp of the key factors involved. This tends to become clear when talking to the public about potential legal changes affecting occupational pensions. Such discussions are necessary, but people find the topic highly complex. Many people don’t yet see retirement savings as an urgent issue, thinking "that’s still a long way off"— so it’s not seen as a priority.

Fairplay study confirms knowledge deficits among the public

The Fairplay study, conducted by the Sotomo research institute on behalf of Zurich Switzerland and Vita, has clearly demonstrated major knowledge deficits among the population on occupational pension issues. For example, only 17 percent of the working population are aware of the precise amount they have contributed to their pension fund thus far. The importance of the "second pillar" of the Swiss retirement planning system is underestimated — public awareness is lacking.

What are the consequences of this awareness deficit? What control do I as an employee have over my occupational pension?

Manuel Gerhard: The lack of public knowledge has tremendous retirement implications. By the time people get around to thinking about it, in many cases it’s too late. As a rule, the earlier you start thinking about pension provision the more flexibility you can enjoy, which is important because needs can change over the course of your life. Kids should really receive education about retirement and social security early on, even in primary school. I think it’s excellent how Vita is already very active with campaigns for educating the public about occupational pensions.
Retirement plan insureds can have more influence over their employer’s occupational pension plan than they may think, by the way, as they can approach the foundation board or administration committee for their pension plan with any concerns. They can also campaign for appointment to the foundation board or administrative committee of their pension plan.

Carlo Hitz: A lack of knowledge can have serious consequences. Those who only look into their pension situation just before retiring, after losing their job, or in cases of death or disability will often find that their pension will not be sufficient. This is unfortunate and therefore all the more important for employees to bring up and talk about pension benefits as early as when interviewing an employer. The interview represents a key opportunity to find out about the pension plan of one’s future employer, so the prospective new hire can decide whether taking the job is a good idea.

Retirement benefits not usually a topic in recruiting

As the Fairplay study conducted by the Sotomo research institute indicated, commissioned by Zurich Switzerland and Vita, general neglect of "second pillar" retirement planning issues is reflected in recruiting processes. A majority of those surveyed who had taken on a new job within the past ten years did not talk about the company retirement plan while interviewing. Only 18 percent said they did talk about occupational pensions during the recruiting process.

The need for education in this area is apparent. What role can employers play in promoting education? What possibilities do they have for raising employee awareness regarding retirement saving?

Manuel Gerhard: I have made it a point to tell friends and family that they should definitely bring up the topic of occupational pensions when interviewing for a job and get information on what benefits the employer offers. However, it has been my experience that employer representatives themselves are not very knowledgeable about the company pension plan in many cases, being poorly prepared to address such questions. One possibility is to give HR staff specific training on occupational retirement saving, so they can provide regular education seminars for employees participating in the company retirement plan. We conduct annual info seminars for the employees of several corporate clients I look after. We go out and educate their staff about the Swiss pension system, focusing on occupational pensions. We explain how pension plan participants accumulate benefits, pointing out the various options they have as to when and in what form they may start drawing down their savings.

Carlo Hitz: I believe employers have a key role to play in raising awareness among their employees. The job interview represents the first of many opportunities to communicate information about the company pension plan and pro-actively discuss the additional benefits comprising part of the employee’s pay package. There are more such opportunities in the post-recruiting phase, including

How do companies benefit when they advocate for robust occupational pensions?

Manuel Gerhard: It demonstrates social responsibility towards employees. Employers who offer above-average pension benefits should not miss any opportunities to communicate this clearly, as it supports recruiting efforts while promoting employee retention. Information on the company plan and benefits must be communicated clearly and accurately if employees are to be made properly aware of how their employer is adding value.

Carlo Hitz: I believe offering more than the minimum in the company’s occupational pension plan makes recruiting good staff easier; it should be stated in job ads what more the employer offers. Employers benefit too, by contributing more than the required minimum, as all company contributions to the pension plan represent tax-deductible business expenses pursuant to Article 81 of the Occupational Pensions Act (BVG).

Staff info seminars offered by Zurich and Vita

  • Staff info seminars provide your employees with detailed information on the Swiss pension system, which can enable them to make the right decisions for a successful financial future.
  • We offer direct access to experts on occupational pensions and personal retirement planning. Whether it be general information or individual needs – we have the answers to your questions.
  • These seminars will help you to position yourself as a socially responsible company that provides well for its employees.
  • And you help your pension fund fulfill its obligations to inform employees pursuant to the Occupational Pensions Act (BVG). Any and all questions are answered at these employee info seminars. We are also available to employees for confidential consultations on their individual retirement planning situation.
  • Did you know ... Vita Mobil staff info seminars are available not just to our clients but to all interested employers throughout Switzerland.
Manuel Gerhard
Manuel Gerhard is managing director of the collective foundations Vita Plus, Vita Invest, Vita Select, BVG and Malbun and a specialist on all topics relating to occupational pensions and social insurance.
Carlo Hitz
Carlo Hitz is a state-certified pension fund manager, Finance Manager of the Vita Collective Foundation and an expert on occupational pensions in all of their aspects.

Important answers to frequently asked pension questions

I am interested in taking early retirement: Can I do a pension benefit buy-in for this?

That is possible in principle, but depends on your pension fund’s pension plan regulations. In addition to a regular buy-in, you can also fund an AHV bridging pension via buy-in, which may be needed because you cannot draw your AHV retirement pension earlier than two years before reaching regular retirement age. This requires having the necessary funding capital of course.

Why does my pension fund statement show a lower conversion rate than the statutory conversion rate of 6.8 percent?

The 6.8 percent conversion rate only applies to the mandatory BVG savings portion, i.e. the legal minimum. Most insureds have additional retirement savings however above the mandatory minimum. Pension funds are allowed to state the separate corresponding rates for these portions combined on a net basis as a single effective conversion rate for the total capital amount, which may be lower. Application of a 6.8 percent rate for the mandatory savings portion is always guaranteed, however.

Should I take a lump sum payout or annuity distributions when I retire?

There is no set answer to this question, as it always depends on your individual life situation. The general recommendation applies that you should have fixed costs like rent, health insurance, etc. covered by recurring annuity/pension payments. This is a crucial decision, however, with far-reaching consequences, so it is best to seek professional advice.

Can I keep working after reaching the age 65?

Yes, if allowed under your pension plan provider’s regulations (Art. 33b BVG). There are, however, a few points to consider . If you keep working for the same employer, you may be able to continue contributing to your pension plan account, as provided for in the applicable regulations of your pension plan provider.

Staff orientation with Vita Mobil

Vita stands for a simple, secure and clear occupational retirement provision. During our staff information sessions, our pension experts pay you a visit and inform your staff about the essential features of social security schemes.

Find out more

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