What is the conversion rate?
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What is the conversion rate?

The conversion rate is used to calculate the annual BVG pension from the available retirement capital. Anyone who wants to find out what pension is realistic after retirement must know three things about the 2nd pillar:
1. The conversion rate for the mandatory portion of pension fund assets is currently 6.8%.
2. However, most pension funds use a lower conversion rate in their calculations because they combine it with the rate for extra-mandatory insurance.
3. Conversion rates will be lowered in the foreseeable future because they are too high at the moment.

What does the term "conversion rate" mean?

"How high will my pension be someday?" – Anyone asking themselves this question will soon come across the term "conversion rate."

The conversion rate is the set percentage that defines the annual pension from pension fund assets. For the mandatory portion of the BVG, it is also called the minimum conversion rate. It is currently 6.8% and determined in the BVG. This means that if you have retirement capital of CHF 100,000, you will receive an annual pension of CHF 6,800 in retirement.

The catch? It is not quite that simple. This example would be correct if the pension fund covers minimum benefits and the average annual salary is less than CHF 84,600. This salary amount is covered by the mandatory portion of the BVG (Federal Act on Occupational Retirement, Survivors' and Disability Pension Plans). Portions of salary over that amount are assigned to extra-mandatory employee benefits insurance. The pension fund determines this conversion rate. This varies from fund to fund and can be found on the pension fund statement. It is generally lower than 6.8%.

BVG pension calculation using the conversion rate

Calculation of BVG pension using the conversion rate

Source: Credit Suisse

Where do the conversion rates come from?

Various parameters are used when calculating the conversion rates. The most important ones are:

  • Life expectancy of current and future pension recipients
    In 1980, the remaining life expectancy for a 65-year-old man was 15.3 years. By 2005, this rose to 18.2 years and the life expectancy of the younger generation is even higher.1
  • Technical interest rate
    This is based on the projected returns for the pension fund capital on the capital markets. Pension funds anticipate how much interest they can expect to pay on the pension capital at the time of wealth attrition (during which the pension will be paid out). The minimum conversion rate of 6.8% actually requires a return of 4.5%, or a technical interest rate of 4%2 – a condition that has not existed for a long time.

1, 2 Federal Social Insurance Office

Can the conversion rates change?

Mandatory portion

The minimum conversion rate of 6.8% is legally determined in the BVG. It can only be changed by a legal amendment and if the referendum is called, it will be added to popular ballot. In September 2017, both submissions to the Pensions 2020 reform package to reduce the minimum conversion rate to 6% were rejected.

Extra-mandatory portion

This conversion rate is set by the pension fund, which can change it as often as it likes. For many funds, the rates today are over 5%, but a reduction to lower than 5% is foreseeable.

Split or enveloping conversion rate: What is the difference?

To calculate the pension, the pension fund can either use the split or enveloping conversion rate. The result for the pension recipient may differ depending on the distribution of mandatory and extra-mandatory assets. Here are two calculated examples to illustrate the difference:

A future pension recipient saved CHF 300,000 in pension fund assets.
CHF 200,000 thereof represents the mandatory portion.
CHF 100,000 thereof represents the extra-mandatory portion.

Split conversion rate
In this case, the pension is calculated using two different conversion rates

  • CHF 200,000 at 6.8% (mandatory according to BVG)
    = an annual pension of CHF 13,000
  • CHF 100,000 at 5.2% (sample rate for the extra-mandatory portion of the pension fund)
    = an annual pension of CHF 5,200

Overall, it results in an annual pension of CHF 18,200.

Enveloping conversion rate
In this case, a combined conversion rate is used for calculation.
The BVG only stipulates that the end result may not be lower than the 6.8% of the mandatory portion – in this case, no lower than CHF 13,000.

  • CHF 300,000 at 5.8% (on this scale, the enveloping conversion rate is usually shifted)
    = CHF 17,400

Overall, this results in an annual pension of CHF 17,400. This is higher than CHF 13,000. Therefore, the enveloping conversion rate is in line with BVG.

Outlook: Development of conversion rates

Because life expectancy is rising steadily and return prospects in the low interest environment are not expected to be sufficient for stable financing, most pension funds urge reducing the minimum conversion rate. Experts agree that 6.8% is too high. Anyone who is not about to retire soon can expect a lower conversion rate.

It is essential that the BVG conversion rate be adjusted to reality in the political process as soon as possible in order to stem the currently high level of undesired redistribution from today's workers to pension recipients. The aim is to restore the solidarity principle and intergenerational justice in terms of occupational pension provision.

Would you like to know more?

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