portrait showing Judith Granat while talkin
echo interview, August 2022

When it comes to pension provisioning, women shouldn’t be at a disadvantage


echo interview with Judith Granat

echo interview with Judith Granat, Director of Marketing, Consulting and Communications at Retraites Populaires

elipsLife echo: Retraites Populaires is a financial services entity and has its own legal personality under public law. It is one of the largest pension institutions in French-speaking Switzerland, firmly anchored in the canton of Vaud. What does your institution stand for?
Judith Granat:
Retraites Populaires is an insurer in the 2nd and 3rd pillars - the latter via life insurance - and in the pension and mortgage business. The company runs two foundations: Retraites Populaires as a full-service insurance company and Profilia as a semi-autonomous insurance entity. We offer insurance exclusively to residents of the canton of Vaud and companies based there as well as Vaudois citizens wherever they're living in the world. Retraites Populaires invests heavily in the canton of Vaud and also focuses its numerous sponsoring activities on the canton. We also manage a large number of pension funds, such as the Pension Fund of the Canton of Vaud (CPEV) and the Caisse Intercommunale de Pension (CIP). We are non-profit oriented, but nevertheless operate in very competitive markets. Our clients deeply appreciate the security and trust our institution offers.

Do the insured benefit from your company’s public-sector status?

The insured benefit first and foremost from the solidity of the company. In addition, there is a state guarantee in the event of bankruptcy. Furthermore, as a company under public law, we don’t have to satisfy shareholders. Consequently, we can return large parts of our surpluses to the insured in good financial years; in 2021, these amounted to CHF 67.9 million. 

The company was founded in 1907 as a cantonal institution. How many employees do you have today?
We employ about 330 people and 35 apprentices or people in training. Ninety-five percent of our employees work at our head office in Lausanne, and a few in the Yverdon-les-Bains and Nyon branches. 

portrait of Judith Granat

How high were premium income and asset investments in 2021?
Premium income was approximately CHF 723 million in 2021, and total assets amounted to CHF 8.9 billion. In the 2nd and 3rd pillars, we directly insure roughly 117,000 people. If we add those insured by the pension funds managed by Retraites Populaires, the figure increases to 208,000. Thus, practically every fourth person in Vaud has a relationship with Retraites Populaires in one form or another.  

The number of company-owned pension funds is constantly decreasing, the trend being towards collective foundations. As a representative of a company under public law, how do you view this development? 
We’re benefiting from it. For example, we integrated six pension funds between 2020 and 2022, two of which were pure-play pension funds. I might add that our institution is one of the few insurance companies to take over pension funds of this nature.

Digitalisation is one of the great challenges of the insurance industry. Where does Retraites Populaires stand in this area?

We’re in a good position. First off, we offer a portal where our policyholders can access not only tailormade services in the 2nd and 3rd pillars but also mortgage products. They can find all the information they need on this portal, run simulations on their pension development and identify possible gaps in coverage. In the future, we also want to integrate 1st pillar data. In addition, we’ve created a portal with numerous options for employers, thus achieving significant efficiency gains. This autumn, we’re going to launch a new tool for 3rd pillar applications. This will enable users to handle the entire process of taking out a life insurance policy directly via the Internet, from the initial application to receiving the actual policy.

The threat of inflation is growing in Switzerland too. What are the consequences for pension funds?
You have to look at this question from three angles, first of all from the vantage point of the pension funds: Because the latter invest the money of their active policyholders, this development is likely to be a favourable in the long term because bonds will generate returns again. This will mean that the investments once again come into their own as a third source of contributions to pension schemes. Secondly, from the perspective of the active insured, inflation will generate an increase in total wages and salaries. This will result in more money flowing into the pension funds and also rising interest rates. Furthermore, each pension fund will have to assess whether to index pensions, introduce a supplementary pension or do nothing. 

Portrait of Judith Granat

Retraites Populaires is an elipsLife client. What does elipsLife do better than the competition in your view?
Our semi-autonomous foundation Profilia is reinsured with elipsLife. It’s important for us to stay in direct contact with our policyholders in the event of a claim. 
When we were looking for a new reinsurer at the beginning of 2021, we didn't just want an interesting partner in terms of price, but also one that would be responsive to our model in terms of processes. elipsLife was able to do this and we’ve been very satisfied with the cooperation so far. We experience elipsLife as competent, solution-oriented partner with strong customer focus and short decision-making processes. Based on our experience up to now, we expect further major efficiency gains as a result of this partnership. 

Despite the war in Europe, the pandemic and inflation, old-age provisioning remains one of the biggest concerns for the Swiss population. In the autumn, there’s going to be a vote on a reform of the AHV pension system, including a uniform reference age and higher VAT. What’s your view on a retirement age of 65 for women?
I fear that the most urgently needed AHV revision will fail because of this very question. From my point of view, most people have nothing in principle against raising the pensionable age for women to 65. That being said, the problem is a lack of compensatory measures for women - especially in respect to the 2nd pillar - where they are at a strong disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. It might have been more sensible to launch the AHV reform without the element of women's pension age. This issue could also have been tackled as part of a separate reform of the 2nd pillar. This would have provided time to improve the compensation measures. 

The 2nd pillar is also to be restructured, with a lower conversion rate and compensation for pension losses via additional contributions from wages and salaries. The bill had a hard time in parliament, mainly because of the redistribution that isn’t part of the system. Where would you set the priorities for the reform of the BVG occupational pension system?

The reform of the 2nd pillar is essential because the conversion rate of 6.8% is simply too high. However, I would prioritise lowering the coordination deduction or abolishing it altogether. If the coordination deduction remains, I would calculate it as a percentage of the degree of employment and keep it as low as possible. In addition, young people should be given the opportunity to pay contributions into occupational pension schemes before the age of 25. Thirdly and finally, I would adapt the BVG to the new forms of work and introduce measures for women, because they are often at a disadvantage in the current system. It’s our responsibility to ensure that people have a decent pension. Otherwise, this burden will be transferred to society.  

What measures for the advancement of women do you see in the BVG?

The focus is on part-time work, especially when women are holding down several part-time jobs at the same time. If each part-time job is paid low wages, this can lead to the person in question not paying any pension contributions at all. Around 60% of women work part-time, while only 18% of men do! The widow's pension is also a problem. A widow receives only between 40% and 60% of her deceased partner's pension. This reduction is simply too high, and improvements are urgently needed. 

portrait of Judith Granat
Personal Profile
Judith Granat
Director of Marketing, Consulting and Communications at Retraites Populaires

Judith Granat, a Swiss citizen, was born in 1975. She was appointed Director of Marketing, Consulting and Communications at Retraites Populaires in January 2018 and holds a PhD and a Major in Business Administration from the University of St. Gallen, HSG. She joined Retraites Populaires in 2016. Prior to that, Judith Granat held a management position at Services Industriels de Lausanne, where she was responsible for telecommunications and media. She is married, has two children and lives in Blonay. In her private life, the passionate gourmet cook spends a lot of time with her family and playing golf.

echo interview with Judith Granat