Closing pension gaps. Swiss pension system

Identifying, avoiding, and closing pension gaps early on

If a pension is not large enough to cover a person's normal expenses, this is known as a pension gap. What are the potential causes of such a gap and what options does the Swiss pension system provide for avoiding or closing them at an early stage?

What is a pension gap?

The Swiss pension system stipulates that the statutory payments to the AHV (first pillar) and the pension fund (second pillar) should enable retirees to maintain their accustomed standard of living. However, the resulting pension essentially only covers 60 percent of the last salary or less. In Switzerland, this is in most cases not enough to maintain the current standard of living after retirement. Doing this would require 80 to 90 percent of the person's last income. The difference between the pension assets paid out and actual living costs is known as a pension gap.

Pension gaps in the three-pillar system

Pension gaps in the three-pillar system

Contributions from the AHV (first pillar) and the pension fund (second pillar) cover approximately 60 percent of a person's last salary in Switzerland. Starting at an annual income of approx. 85,000 Swiss francs, this percentage usually decreases even further.

Source: OASI, BVG, and ordinances

Sample calculation for a salary of CHF 100,000

Despite uninterrupted contributions to the AHV and pension fund, only approximately 60 percent of the salary is covered upon retirement by the first and second pillars. However, as a rule of thumb, roughly 80 to 90 percent would be required to maintain the same standard of living.

Situation before retirement


Annual salary

CHF 100,000

Situation after retirement

AHV benefits (first pillar) CHF 29,400
Pension fund benefits (social second pillar)* CHF 30,000
Total CHF 59,400

Calculating the pension gap

Requirement CHF 80,000
Benefits from the first and second pillars CHF 59,400
Pension gap per year CHF 20,600

* Assumption for second-pillar pension payout: CHF 30,000 (the actual benefits are shown on the pension fund statement).

Identifying possible causes of pension gaps

The amount of retirement pension paid out, and thus the size of the pension gap, depends on a variety of factors in addition to the last income:

  • Missing AHV contribution years: Every missing contribution year reduces the pension by 1/44 over the course of your life. Contribution years are lost, for instance, if the AHV minimum contribution is not paid during a year due to childcare, studies, a language stay, or an extended trip.
  • Part-time work: The pension fund contributions in the second pillar are based on annual income. The contributions are accordingly lower for part-time work, leading to a lower retirement pension. The same is true of the AHV retirement pension. Since the average income for part-time work is most likely lower than for full-time work, the AHV retirement pension is also smaller.
  • Early retirement: In the case of early retirement, both the company and the employee make contributions for a shorter amount of time. This reduces the annual pension; additionally, the interest and compound interest of the missing contributions also disappear.
  • Divorce: In Switzerland, the pension contributions from AHV, the pension fund, and the third pillar are fundamentally split in half between spouses during the marriage.
  • High income: Generally speaking, the higher annual income, the greater the pension gap since statutory benefits are limited.
  • Reduction of the conversion rate: A decreasing conversion rate lowers the retirement pension, as the pension is calculated by multiplying the accrued pension assets by this rate.

Knowing the impacts of pension gaps

AHV and pension fund benefits are based on the minimum needs of retirees. This means that even the full retirement pension does not allow for a great deal of leeway. Many employees are not aware of the extent to which pension gaps can affect their standard of living in old age. Even in Switzerland, there are recurring cases of people who suddenly can no longer cover their daily needs in old age.

A frequent example is real estate owners who can suddenly no longer afford to pay their bills and have to sell their homes. In the case of immigrants, they may even be forced to return to their home country due to pension gaps. Simply because the cost of living is usually lower there.

When do you have to start worrying about preventing pension gaps?

For gainfully employed persons, the obligation to pay AHV contributions starts from January 1 after reaching the age of 18. For non-employed persons – pupils and students – it starts from January 1 after reaching the age of 21.

This means that anyone who is not gainfully employed due to their studies must make the minimum AHV contribution. Students should therefore take a close look at the consequences of their pension planning – which you should generally do every time your circumstances change. Be it a career advancement, an extended stay abroad, starting a family, or a divorce. Otherwise, we recommend starting to look at this topic by no later than the age of 50.

Closing pension gaps with forward-looking retirement planning

1. Checking AHV contributions

Missing AHV contributions reduce your pension by 1/44 over the course of your life. If you would like to know whether you have contribution gaps, you can contact the respective compensation office to order an account statement from your individual account (IA). Existing gaps can only be paid back for a period of five years.

2. Planning for voluntary pension provision

In practice, 80 to 90 percent of a person's last income should be used as a guideline for their needs in retirement. The difference between this amount and the amount provided by the first and second pillar benefits (approx. 60 percent) must be provided for privately – this is done via the voluntary or private pension provision:

  • Pillar 3a: First and foremost, we recommend payments to the third pillar – for instance Pillar 3a. Due to the compound interest, it is worth getting an early start on retirement provision. If financially feasible, it is advisable for gainfully employed persons with a pension fund to make the maximum annual contribution to Pillar 3a of currently 7,056 Swiss francs. Said contribution can be deducted from taxable income.
  • Purchase of pension benefits: As with Pillar 3a, voluntary purchases of pension benefits can be deducted from taxable income. Purchases of pension benefits usually enable a flexible choice between a higher pension fund pension or a higher lump-sum payout upon retirement.

For both options, the accrued retirement assets are not subject to wealth or income tax during the term. In the event of withdrawal in the form of a lump sum, both options are once again subject to tax – but separately from other income, and at a lower, preferential rate.

  • Pillar 3b: Alternatively, Pillar 3b is also an option for private pension provision. With this option, the money remains available but there are no tax benefits, save for a few exceptions.

3. Request an AHV pension forecast and study the pension fund statement

With a pension forecast, the expected pension can be calculated. In addition, the pension fund statement should be studied in order to determine the pension income. It is also very important to take a close look at your own pension fund: Is it stable? What do the regulations of the fund say?

4. Draw up a budget

It is imperative to draw up a budget and list the expected costs. The question: "When do I spend more money – while working, or during leisure time?" acts as a guide in this context. This lets you fulfill a few of your wishes, maintain hobbies, and indulge yourself a little during retirement.