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Swiss lawmakers reject variable pension payouts

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Swiss pension providers are unlikely to be permitted to alter pension payouts to retirees after a committee of MPs rejected a proposal to allow flexibility around existing payments.

The group of 22 politicians – known as the SGK-NR commission – narrowly voted down the proposal, making it unlikely that parliament would approve it.

The motion was put forward by Green Party MP Thomas Weibel in December 2017 to help ease the mounting pressure on Pensionskassen from fixed pension payouts. The pressure has increased due to high conversion rates and low interest rates.

In Switzerland pension levels are promised when a contract with a Pensionskasse is signed, meaning adding variable elements to existing pension promises is almost unprecedented.

In their reasoning, the committee argued that variable pension payments would “bring great uncertainty” to members of Pensionskassen.

Additionally, the committee said that introducing such a fundamental change to the second pillar could interfere with other pension reforms currently under discussion.

Those who voted in favour of the motion cited the “unfair” use of active members’ accrued assets to pay existing pensioners’ benefits, as was the case with a number of Pensionskassen in Switzerland.

A small number of companies have introduced a form of top-up element that can vary with time, while 1e plans for high earners also have variability for payouts – but in most cases this only applies to new members.

Overall, the concept – even for new contracts – is regarded with scepticism by the Swiss pensions industry. Variable pension payments were the subject of a heated debate at a conference in Zurich organised by regional supervisor BVS. 

Pension funds welcome decision

After the vote, the Swiss pension fund association Asip welcomed the commission’s decision.

“Without a minimum guarantee the reliability of the occupational pension system and people’s trust in it would be strained,” Asip warned.

Rather than introducing a variable element to existing pensions, the lobby group called on Pensionskassen to “issue much more cautiously defined guarantees today to allow for possible surpluses to be shared with pensioners in the future”.

Under current regulations, inflation-linked pension increases have to be granted by individual funds and do not happen automatically. Payouts can be increased but cannot be cut, even when a pension fund is in financial trouble.

Lower levels of guarantees in future contracts could still prove insufficient to help Pensionskassen that are struggling with keeping promises made when interest rates were higher.

Weibel has brought forward several motions over the past few years to reform the occupational pension sector, including one aimed at making infrastructure investments more attractive for Pensionskassen.

This was approved by both chambers of parliament last year but has yet to make it into legislation.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Wasn't obvious what "1e" (in "1e plans for high earners") stands for. Is it the (French) Swiss way of writing the English "1st" (short for "first")?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hi Richard,
    1e plans are one of several types of second-pillar pensions in Switzerland. The 1e is a reference to the law that created them.
    An explainer is available here: https://www.ipe.com/pensions/country-reports/switzerland/1e-pension-plans-staying-popular/10024976.article

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