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IPE special report May 2018

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Swiss watchdog tackling conflicts of interest that 'don't exist' – ASIP

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  • Swiss watchdog tackling conflicts of interest that 'don't exist' – ASIP

SWITZERLAND – ASIP, Switzerland's pension fund association, has accused the country's top supevisor (OAK) of trying to prevent conflicts of interest that do not exist.

The most recent draft for a decree published by the so-called Oberaufsichtskommission covers the independence of 'pension fund experts', or Pensionskassenexperte, which are certified actuaries Pensionskassen must use for actuarial matters.

The OAK wants to disqualify people on the board of directors, as well as those working anywhere in the administration of a fund – such as manager selection, for example – as 'experts'.

But Christoph Ryter, the recently re-elected president at ASIP, said: "While we agree board members should not serve as Pensionskassenexperte, we do not see why someone choosing a manager should not be qualified to comment on underfunding."

He pointed out that all manager selections are checked by an independent third party anyway.

Ryter said he would leave it to the trustees to decide whether these people should be allowed to serve as experts in a fund, and urged the OAK not to rule out that possibility.

"Many Pensionskassen would have to change their Pensionskassenexperte should the decree be passed in its current form," he added.

Ryter said it was often "difficult" to find a good, external expert, and that it "might be good for a pension fund not to have to work together with too many external partners".

He noted the OAK had shown "a greater degree of pragmatism" when it came to amending the decree on reporting costs in pension funds – "but we are missing this in the most recent draft on Pensionskassenexperten".

Meanwhile, Hanspeter Konrad, director at ASIP, commented on a motion brought to Parliament that, he argues, would introduce a pay-as-you-go element into the second pillar.

Social democratic MP Jacqueline Fehr revived an idea first brought to public attention by Swiss unions a few years ago, under which pension funds would have to pay out pensions to people only to the age of 85.

After that, the motion suggests, pensions should be paid out by the Sicherheitsfonds, a pension protection fund into which Pensionskassen pay a yearly fee.

"This is a very bad idea, and it would mean a partial abandonment of the funded system back to a pay-as-you-go element," Konrad said.

The MP argued that this would ease the pressure on Pensionskassen to lower the conversion rate used to calculate old-age pensions from accrued assets.

However, Konrad stressed that this was "not a good idea" and that the measure would do nothing to ease the burden on Pensionskassen.

He also argued that, given the financing structure of the Sicherheitsfonds, Pensionskassen would ultimately have to pay for the longevity risk.

"The levy for the Sicherheitsfonds would increase considerably," he said.

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