Unclaimed employment pensions hit $3 billion

Retirement assets totalling close to three billion francs are lying dormant in Swiss occupational pension funds because their beneficiaries cannot be traced, according to a report.

Unclaimed employment pensions hit $3 billion
Photo: AFP

More than 2.97 billion francs is held in around 632,000 accounts, according to the Substitute Benefit Occupational Benefit Institution (Stiftung Auffangeinrichtung BVG).

The money is from occupational pension accounts that are often forgotten about when an individual changes jobs or during a pause in a professional career, Max Meili, director of the institution told the ATS news agency.

They subsequently fail to follow up on the so-called “second pillar” pensions, which supplement the Swiss old-age, survivors’ and invalidity insurance (first pillar) and private insurance (third pillar) plans.

Second pillar pensions are funded by contributions from employers and employees.

Meili told ATS that globalization explains in part the rise in dormant accounts, which amounted to 1.3 billion francs more than in 2009.

Swiss more often spend part of their careers outside of Switzerland and lose track of contributions they have made to pension plans when they switch jobs.

More expats are working in Switzerland, also, and many return to their home country without having followed the necessary steps to ensure they receive their pension earnings.

Stiftung Auffangeinrichtung BVG said it succeeded in tracking around a third of orphaned accounts in 2015.

Such accounts had an average value of 4,700 francs last year but 258 accounts were worth more than 250,000 francs.

Anyone who is concerned about losing part of their occupational pension while working in Switzerland can contact the Second Pillar Central Office.

This Bern-based office received 35,000 inquiries in 2015, considerably more than in previous years, ATS reported.

People alerted by media coverage are becoming more active in tracking down income that would otherwise be lost, the news agency indicated.

Cantonal authorities are also conducting more research when it comes to deciding on social aid or other complementary benefits, ATS said.

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Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the cost of living soaring due to inflation, many consumers in Switzerland are looking for ways to save money. Could buying goods abroad through foreign websites be a good solution?

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the Swiss franc still stronger than the euro, ordering your products online from European distributors could indeed be cheaper than paying Swiss prices.

A recent report by the RTS public broadcaster, found that even some Swiss products are cheaper when purchased abroad — for instance, capsules for Nespresso coffee machines cost less on the company’s German site than they do in Switzerland.

This applies to a variety of products, ranging from food and beverages to clothing.

In fact, shopping on foreign platforms became a lot easier for the Swiss in January 2022, when ‘geoblocking’ — the practice that restricts access to Internet content based on the user’s geographical location — was banned in Switzerland.

This means Swiss customers are no longer denied the possibility of buying on foreign shopping platforms.

However, there are things to consider before you go on a shopping spree “abroad”, such as additional charges.

While something may appear to be a really great deal in comparison to Swiss prices, keep in mind that the purchase may be subject to customs duties.

According to the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (BAZG) “the customs duties are generally calculated according to the gross weight (including packaging), and are often less than 1 franc per kilo. Particularly alcoholic beverages, tobacco goods, foodstuffs, textiles and jewellery items are subject to higher customs duties”.

In other words, before you order something that you think is a really good deal, find out if any additional charges will be due; depending on the amount, the final cost may not make it worthwhile for you to purchase abroad.

The good news is that, as BAZG points out, goods ordered from “countries with which Switzerland has concluded a free trade agreement or from developing countries can usually be imported duty-free or at reduced rates”.

You can find out more information about which countries are included, here.

But you could face other problems as well.

As the RTS reported, while ordering items abroad is easy, having them delivered to Switzerland may not be.

As a test, the RTS team tried to order common products, such an Ikea piece of furniture, a vacuum cleaner, and brand-name sneakers — all of which are more affordable abroad — but discovered that “it was impossible to get these objects delivered to Switzerland”.

That’s because on some shopping platforms a customer can’t change the destination country — it is embedded on the site and blocked.

At some of these  merchants, “the customer is even directly redirected to the Swiss site if an address in Switzerland is indicated”, RTS said. This means you will end up paying Swiss prices.

Sophie Michaud Gigon, general secretary of the consumer protection association FRC, told RTS that some foreign sites have not yet adapted to the law prohibitng geoblocking.

And there is something else too that you should pay attention to online.

Say you prefer to avoid foreign sites and shop in Switzerland instead. This could be a problem as well.

Under the Swiss law, it is possible to obtain a domain name ending in .ch, even though these companies are  located abroad. This has proven to be misleading to many Switzerland-based customers.

That’s why many clients who believe they are ordering from a supplier in Switzerland are actually buying from a foreign company — a fact that they only discover when they have to pay customs duty.

The only way to avoid this trap, according to FRC, is to call the number on the company’s website and ask where they are located.