member of the Board of Directors
What was your impression of Asga before taking up your role as a member of the Board of Directors?
As far as I was concerned, Asga’s image was always that of a solid if unexciting – though in a positive way – pension fund for Eastern Switzerland that is very closely identified with small businesses and SMEs and provides its insureds with a good service at reasonable cost. As an insured, I was also aware of how many of my friends and family members faced the prospect of a potential shortfall. I didn’t have that concern myself – even though, of course, you’re never totally protected against such a thing.
Was your impression borne out by the reality?
Yes, it was – in a number of respects. I still see Asga as a reliable partner that keeps its promises and takes a sufficiently prudent approach. The close relationship with the SME sector still exists, and Asga has a very strong presence in Eastern Switzerland. Time and time again I hear that Asga is close at hand, that our contact staff are personally known to our insureds and members, and that if necessary any questions and concerns are dealt with in a direct, personal way.
However, we’ve certainly seen expansion in terms of geographical locations and company size in recent years. Indeed, Asga is now attracting companies from beyond Eastern Switzerland as well as big firms. The affiliation of these new companies, and therefore our targeted growth, is a key factor in our ability to maintain a very good relationship between active insureds and pensioners. As far as the younger generations are concerned, I believe it’s particularly important to make sure the redistribution from young to old doesn’t get out of hand. Given the current conversion rates, it’s already the case that the returns generated by the pension fund on the capital markets are not fully credited to the retirement savings capital of our active insureds. Fact is, a portion of the returns are used to cover the conversion losses for BVG/LPP mandatory coverage. In Asga’s case, the redistribution at the expense of the younger generation would now be much greater if we hadn’t had this growth.
Our expansion has also accentuated something else, in my view: On the one hand, having a current workforce of more than 130 people means Asga Pensionskasse Genossenschaft still ranks as an SME; at the same time, we manage a huge volume of assets that outstrips even the investments of regional banks. These two extremes need to be kept in mind and reconciled on a constant basis. It’s a challenge in organisational terms, especially as we operate within very extensive legal constraints as far as investments are concerned and we therefore have stringent requirements to meet. Our resources need to be targeted effectively and all employees have the very demanding task of making sure these services are provided at a low administrative cost. Everyone involved is committed to achieving this goal on a daily basis. Seeing this in action is a source of great satisfaction to me.
What makes Asga different?
The fact that we’re still organised as a co-operative sets Asga apart from many other pension funds. Our members are all co-owners, the Delegates’ Assembly is the supreme governing body, and the interests of all those involved are very closely aligned. I see that as an immense privilege.
Because of this, and due to its history, Asga has a special status. But given that we’re now the largest independent occupational benefits institution, we need to be aware of our responsibility at all times. Sometimes radical decisions need to be taken too, even if most others are not (yet) prepared to do so. I remember the decision taken to set blanket conversion rates lower as 6% in the future – a very large number of pension funds have since come to that conclusion too.
What in your eyes has been the biggest change for Asga since joining the Board of Directors?
A huge amount has changed in the six-plus years since I came on board – not in terms of basic values, more in terms of organisation. That’s not least down to the more stringent requirements placed upon us. Countless processes have been optimised – and that’s set to continue with ever greater digitalisation and automation. Yet at the same time our focus is still on the individual. Also, big achievements such as the new investment organisation as well as the new business process management – in which all Asga processes are mapped and organised – are definitely very positive steps in my view. Of course, I’m also thrilled that the financial numbers are looking good – because at the end of the day that’s what really matters to our insureds.
But when I’m asked about why I like doing the job so much, I have to say the biggest factor is the strong commitment shown by the people who work at Asga as well as the many exciting new technical developments that are so important to our future. We believe in having a very open, critical, but above all constructive dialogue at Executive Board and Board of Directors level too. Our professional yet friendly approach, in which everyone’s opinion is treated with respect and which is actively encouraged by Chairman of the Board of Directors Stefan Bodmer as well as CEO Sergio Bortolin, is exemplary. And this too is very much in line with the co-operative spirit: working together with the same goal in mind.
The group of men around Asga’s founders achieved pioneering results. What pioneering achievements do you see in future, and how does the fact that women are now in key positions change things?
We’re unlikely to see a repeat of such pioneering achievements. However, we must succeed in bringing the overall occupational benefits framework into line with current conditions. As we’ve seen with the political debate surrounding AHV and BVG, this is already a major challenge and will continue to preoccupy politicians first and foremost, but also the pension funds themselves – both now and in the future.
Fortunately, the fact that women too are now sitting around the table is a reflection of the modern world. As with every committee with a diverse membership – whether in terms of gender, age or professional background – deliberations are likely to be more complex and decisions will be more broad-based. At the same time, it’s rare for women to have one particular opinion and men another. Even so, different perspectives can be helpful.
Fact is, however, it’s still the case that far too few women are interested in the subject of pension provision and underestimate what impact it has – not just on society but also on their own lives. That’s why I would seriously encourage women to tackle the subject of pensions and immerse themselves in it professionally. There are still too few of us willing to take responsibility in this area. There’s a lot at stake, you know – especially for women. To that extent it’s time for women to stop being afraid of the complexity of the subject and get involved at all decision-making levels.