Occupational retirement provision: there is much more potential in our savings

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Occupational retirement provision: there is much more potential in our savings

In occupational retirement provision, investment income is currently being redistributed from working people to pensioners. In addition, pension funds are being forced to invest the pension fund assets in an unduly conservative manner. As a result, the expected retirement assets are only half as high as they could be under optimal conditions – this is the conclusion of a recent HSG study.
Occupational retirement provision: There is much more potential in our savings

Occupational retirement provision has been the tried-and-tested second pillar of retirement provision for decades. For many in Switzerland, it is by far their largest asset and an important source of their retirement income. By the time they retire, many working people will have saved several hundred thousand francs. This may sound like a lot, but given today's life expectancy at the age of 65 (as of 2019), it must be sufficient for 20 years for men and even 23 years for women.

HSG study: Every franc saved is nowhere near worth what it should be

It is therefore important and sensible to ask yourself: "What are my savings actually worth in my occupational retirement provision?" Or, to put it another way, "Am I really getting the most out of my occupational retirement provision?" A recent study by the Institute of Insurance Economics at the University of St.Gallen (HSG) looked at precisely this question and came to clear conclusions: Our saving are nowhere near reaching their full value, but could have much more potential. Because of redistribution and conservative investment strategies, the expected retirement assets at the end of working life are much smaller than they could be under optimal conditions.

Evaluation of 15 of the largest pension plans

Specifically, data from 15 of the largest occupational pension providers was analyzed, including six comprehensive insurance providers and nine semi-autonomous foundations. Together they cover about 45 percent of the Swiss pension market and are thus particularly relevant for SMEs. As part of the study, the researchers involved first calculated how much money had been redistributed by these pension plans from the working population to pensioners in recent years. They then looked at how the insureds' savings were invested. In both areas, the results were disturbing:

Redistribution: On average, working people lose 1 to 2 percent of their retirement savings each year

  • For each working contributor, an average of 1,000 Swiss francs is redistributed from the investment income on the pension capital every year to existing pensioners. Effectively, working people lose even more money, because the 1,000 francs would have been invested for years or even decades and would have significantly increased in value by the time they retire due to compound interest. Consequently, an actively insured person currently loses between 1 and 2 percent of their pension capital per year due to transfer to the generation of retirees. The HSG researchers forecast that this redistribution will be even higher in coming years. It is already considerable and significantly reduces the performance of the pension capital. This is particularly painful given that interest rates are currently at a record low.

Redistribution: Working people lose this money year after year

On average, 1,000 Swiss francs are redistributed each year per working person – on average, this would be enough to finance a Swiss person's food and drink purchases for two months or pay the health insurance premium for an entire quarter – on average about 350 francs per month. Taken over a person's entire working life, this would amount to 40,000 Swiss francs; enough to buy a nice new car or place Toblerone bars end to end over a distance of six kilometers, for example from Täsch to Zermatt.

The real problem: the investment returns are being wasted on a massive scale

  • Redistribution is one problem of the Swiss pension fund system. Another challenge is much less known, but has far greater implications: It is above all the investment strategies of Swiss pension funds that contribute to the fact that the savings of working people do not reach their full value. The legal requirements are strict and offer little scope for differentiation in terms of risk-bearing capacity and customer preferences. As a result, the pension funds have little room to maneuver when it comes to investing. They are often forced to choose particularly low-risk forms of investment, such as bonds. However, these currently generate only meager returns. The guarantees associated with the currently rigid and excessively high conversion rates are also partly responsible for the fact that the pension funds cannot invest their money as profitably as they would actually like. Guarantees always come at a price! In view of the long investment horizons of up to 40 years, it would make sense to invest the funds more boldly and thus more lucratively.

Why high guarantees ultimately mean less money

Guarantee – that always sounds good. Because with such a promise for the future, you know what you have and can rely on a good result. Unfortunately, this is not the case with occupational retirement provisions. Here, the excessive promises of guaranteed fixed pensions made in the past unfortunately lead to the pensions of future generations of retirees effectively being significantly lower than under other circumstances. This also includes the guaranteed conversion rate. This is because the pension funds have to generate the promised amount with one hundred percent certainty and therefore invest in an unduly conservative way, for example in bonds, which generate hardly any returns at the moment. As a result, a lot of potential is wasted when accumulating the retirement savings capital, ultimately leading to pensions that are guaranteed, but do not yield anywhere near what might be possible under other circumstances.

Retirement assets could be doubled by investing efficiently

A sample calculation by the HSG scientists shows how drastic the effects of conservative investment strategies are: In a portfolio comprising 23 percent equities, the expected final value was twice as high as in a conservative portfolio with an equity exposure of just under 6 percent. A deposit period of 40 years (from 25 to 65 years) was used as the basis, during which a total of 480,000 Swiss francs was paid in. The conservative investment strategy resulted in an expected value of around 640,000 Swiss francs, while the bolder investment strategy resulted in an expected value of 1.4 million Swiss francs. The higher volatility of the second portfolio was more than compensated for by the significantly higher performance. For the contributor, this means that if the pension funds did not have to invest so conservatively, the insured could expect double the retirement assets and hence twice as much pension, according to the calculations in the HSG study.


The HSG study shows that the public discussion is insufficient if it revolves solely around demographic issues or the level of the conversion rate. While this also affects the generation of today's working people, they will above all be disadvantaged by the effects of systematic redistribution, rigid pension models and limited investment opportunities. These lead to the savings not reaching their optimal value and a lot of potential is currently being wasted. A broad public dialogue is needed in order to finally address these grievances. We need to look for creative solutions that give pension funds more room to maneuver – for new opportunities and options in occupational retirement provision.

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