In Switzerland, the pension funds take care of occupational retirement provision. Companies that do not have a pension fund of their own can affiliate themselves with a collective institution. Such institutions maintain a separate pension scheme for each company and offer various pension planning solutions tailored to the respective companies' individual needs. The Foundation Council is the joint foundation's top executive body; it is responsible for the overall administration of the pension fund and monitors the Executive Management. The members of the Foundation Council define the strategic goals and principles, determine the organization of the foundation, and ensure its financial stability.
Tanja Siegenthaler (employee representative and Vice-President) and Peter E. Naegeli (employer representative and President) have served on the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation for many years. Both had decided to run for office in response to a recommendation. Did you know that every insured who works for an affiliated employer with an employment level of at least 40 percent can run for a seat on the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation? According to the Swiss system of part-time public service in the field of occupational retirement provision, the insured can co-determine important strategic decisions and the range of benefits of their own pension fund. In 2021, the joint foundation will elect a new foundation council. A good opportunity to ask: What actually do the members of the Foundation Council do?
How did you become a member of the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation?
Tanja Siegenthaler: Our business owner thought I'd be a good candidate. So he encouraged me to run for office in 2008. Unfortunately, my votes weren't sufficient, so I was elected as a replacement candidate. In 2011, I got a call and was told that a seat on the Foundation Council would become vacant. So I joined the Vita Joint Foundation towards the end of the then current office term.
Peter E. Naegeli: In 2004, Hans-Jürg Bernet, CEO of Zurich Switzerland at the time, told me that Zurich had replaced the full coverage model in occupational retirement provision with a partially autonomous model and had founded the Vita Joint Foundation. Now, suitable employer and employee candidates had to be found for the Foundation Council, which was to replace the previous Foundation Board. At the instigation of Hans-Jürg Bernet, I decided to run for office, and at the next election, I was elected.
What is your work on the Foundation Council like?
Tanja Siegenthaler: I take my role as a member of the Foundation Council very seriously. At the beginning it was like jumping in at the deep end. I embraced my new duties with great enthusiasm and read up on occupational retirement provisions. Initially, it wasn't easy, as many things were new to me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the challenge. I've learned a lot, and now I have an understanding of how the system works. Both the preparation and the board discussions are interesting – after all, the subject of retirement provision concerns us all. I'm proud to represent the interests of the insured as an employee representative, asking questions from their perspective.
Peter E. Naegeli: I've been on the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation for 15 years, and my duties have changed significantly over the years. The statement made by a former CEO of Zurich Switzerland aptly describes what we've been doing: "I wonder whether all foundation boards and their presidents are as active as you guys at the Vita Joint Foundation!" From the outset, the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation has taken its role very seriously: namely to represent the interests of the insured with determination and to live up to the purpose of occupational retirement provision – which is to provide an adequate pension after retirement.
How much time does the work on the Foundation Council of the Vita Joint Foundation consume?
Tanja Siegenthaler: Generally, I do a lot of personal study and read professional magazines. Obviously, preparing for the individual meetings takes a lot of time. The topics are diverse and complex, and I need at least three hours to form a sound opinion. As my actual job has little to do with occupational retirement provision, I really value the half-day or full-day training courses, which add up to three additional days a year.
Peter E. Naegeli: The workload is comparable to that of the members of the Board of Directors of a stock corporation. The one-day meetings are held once a quarter, sometimes in conjunction with a training workshop. Additionally, a two-day strategy conclave is held every year. Time is also needed for preparation and reading documents. Committee members also need to prepare current topics and files for deliberation by the Foundation Council. All in all, the work totals about six to eight working days a year. My workload as the President of the Foundation Council amounts to about 10 percent of the yearly working time.
What would you expect from a Foundation Council candidate?
Tanja Siegenthaler: Candidates should be keenly interested in occupational retirement provision and be willing to get acquainted with this subject area and attend training courses. They shouldn't forget that the work will take time. Therefore, the candidacy must be backed by the employer, and the time-off needed must be granted. In the part-time public service system, it's not possible and not necessary for all of us to be BVG experts. However, we should be willing to learn.
Peter E. Naegeli: Most importantly, Foundation Council candidates must be eager to assume social responsibility. They must be aware of their role as employer or employee representatives and of the core issue of occupational retirement provision. Professional knowledge of the BVG and of the social insurance system or asset management would be beneficial, but is not mandatory. You can learn a lot!
Any tips for people who would like to become members of the Foundation Council?
Tanja Siegenthaler: The work on the Foundation Council is exciting and important and requires a good measure of commitment and discipline. A candidate should be aware of the responsibility and effort associated with this office. As a member of the Foundation Council, it's sometimes beneficial to ask critical or "simple" questions. Apart from the in-depth knowledge of experts, these simple questions can be just what's needed to find a solution.
Peter E. Naegeli: Anybody who appreciates the Swiss three-pillar system and is committed to fairness in occupational retirement provision should run for a seat on the Foundation Council. The challenges associated with the demographic development cannot be mastered by the field of politics alone. Although there is a great need for reform, the current legislation already provides enough leeway for designing occupational retirement provision in such a way that future generations will benefit: without any legacy issues such as the billions in retirement losses that have accumulated throughout Switzerland over the years.