"It is essential for entrepreneurs to have an emergency plan."

If an entrepreneur has an accident or falls ill, it puts the company at great risk. Who will take over running the company? Are signatory powers arranged so that liquidity can be available on short notice? Is there a plan in place to ensure succession? A carefully prepared emergency plan can provide the necessary protection.

The inability to act is every business owner's nightmare.

Whether it's a skiing accident in Davos or a severe illness – when fate deals an unexpected blow it can turn a person's life upside down. If the company's ability to act becomes limited, it can have far-reaching consequences for the owner. Besides the countless questions for their personal and family life, it raises many difficult questions concerning management of the business: What happens with the company? Who will take over the reins?


Those are precisely the kinds of questions about unexpected developments that Hans Baumgartner, Head of Entrepreneurs & Executives Switzerland, and Désirée von Michaelis, Head of Wealth Planning Switzerland, answer in this interview.


Genau solche Fragen rund um einen Schicksalsschlag haben Hans Baumgartner, Head Entrepreneurs & Executives Schweiz, und Désirée von Michaelis, Leiterin Wealth Planning Schweiz, im Interview beantwortet.

Mr. Baumgartner, why do entrepreneurs need an emergency plan?

To be honest, it makes sense for everybody to have an emergency plan. After all, an illness or accident can happen to anybody. Yet, if you are the owner of a company, it can have far-reaching consequences. Management of the company may cease abruptly, or the entire business may become partially or completely incapacitated. It is essential for entrepreneurs to have an emergency plan.


Unfortunately, the impact of misfortune does not end within the company. The loss of liquidity and financial difficulties can also unsettle their family, placing additional burdens on it on top of the emotional stress. 


Ms. von Michaelis, what does an emergency plan involve?

They need to answer some key questions. Who will take over running the company in my place or represent me or even take over as my successor? Is my family adequately protected? 


What aspects are taken into account in an emergency plan?

Désirée von Michaelis: No matter how unwilling people are to address these issues, they cannot be ignored. The emergency plan should deal with temporary absences, but also long-term consequences of ordeals such as disability or death. First of all, they need to appoint representatives for both their personal affairs and business matters and maintain the company's ability to act. From a legal point of view, this requires provisions in the areas of company and commercial register law as well as adult protection and inheritance law. In addition, it is important to understand how well protected they are financially and to identify any gaps. For that reason, they also need to look into their social insurance benefits.

How can entrepreneurs ensure that someone is available to legally represent their companies to third parties in such cases?

Hans Baumgartner: They should review the signatory authority entered in the commercial register and assign authority to additional individuals to ensure the company's ability to act in case of an emergency. It is also important to ensure access to liquidity. There are various ways to do that – for example, granting additional sole or joint signatory authority for the appropriate accounts.


Désirée von Michaelis:  If the company has existing agreements with its owners or shareholders, those contracts should be revised to correspond to the advance directive and last will. One example of this could be rules for removing a deceased shareholder that are not in line with the current estate planning. In any case, it is worthwhile to have all documents reviewed by an expert. That can help avoid negative conditions or contradictory statements based on current planning.


Is an advance directive also part of emergency planning?

Haus Baumgartner: Yes, exactly. That is because it does not only ensure that the business owner's personal interests are represented. It also protects their rights as members of governing bodies and their rights as partners or shareholders in the company.


What other instruments can be used to create an emergency plan?

Désirée von Michaelis: Another example is testamentary disposition. One can be drawn up for various purposes, including to govern succession and ensure business continuity. If necessary, they can be supplemented with corresponding marriage or inheritance contract provisions. Good succession planning is definitely worthwhile.


How else can the owner of a company protect themselves in case of emergency?

Hans Baumgartner: Further precautions as part of an emergency plan include reviewing one's current retirement planning in terms of the first, second, and third pillars. Coverage can be optimized, for example, by improving the pension fund's benefits, adding supplementary accident insurance, and taking out life insurance.


What is your procedure for creating an emergency plan?

Désirée von Michaelis: First of all, we sit down with our clients for a no-commitment discussion to give them some guidance on the various aspects of an emergency plan. Through that, we gain initial insight into the areas that are already covered and where there are gaps. At the client's request, we begin in-depth analysis of their situation and desires and examine their current plans to ensure they are consistent and complete. We compile an organized report for them with the results of our analysis and our recommendations. The client advisor, together with our inheritance, tax, and financial planning experts, are then happy to assist them in correcting any weaknesses in the emergency plan.