"I would like to see a little more optimism"
The co-owner and CEO of the Weidmann Group is one the Swiss economy's most powerful women. Franziska Tschudi Sauber on digitalization, trade tariffs and the resilience of the Swiss.
Manuel Rybach: Ms. Tschudi, unemployment has been the top-ranked worry throughout the history of the Worry Barometer. And yet this year, it only ranked sixth on the list of Switzerland's biggest problems. Why is that?
Franziska Tschudi Sauber: I assume that people have a feeling of security because of the good economic situation and the low unemployment – at 2.4 percent, it has fallen to a level last seen a decade ago. Migration is on the decline in Switzerland compared to recent years, and protectionist measures have helped to curb globalism somewhat. Both of these trends could have helped mitigate people's fears of losing their jobs to global competition.
The view of the future is also optimistic. Of those surveyed, 75 percent consider it "unlikely" that they will lose their job due to new technologies. Are we underestimating the dangers of automation?
If the survey participants are referring to the immediate future, then I share their confidence. In the short term, our jobs are not in jeopardy. And yet I am concerned that we are underestimating the long-term consequences of new technologies. New technologies are not simply robots but rather completely new value creation models that will accompany digitalization. These changes will transform our labor market, and it is critical that we react promptly. Right now we should be training young people and retraining our workers for the future.
There seems to be a kind of ambivalence about the impact of these new technologies on our society. Technology improves the quality of life, makes people feel complacent and makes it easier for the state to exert control: these three statements all garner strong support.
That's a discerning assessment. And so the real question is how we as a society deal with this. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Instead of skepticism, I would like to see a little more courage and optimism concerning the issue of digitalization. Especially from politicians. I have the impression that other countries are much more proactive, such as in digitalization of processes and services.
Concerns about "new poverty" and "wages" are on the rise. Do you feel that this is a reaction to a growing economic disparity?
The media is full of these types of reports. But the fact is that income and wealth inequality in Switzerland has remained stable over the long term. The gap has not widened to the extent that it has in other countries. Still, we have to take these new concerns seriously. They are both likely related to the fact that wages have remained somewhat stagnant in recent years, and the middle class, most of all, feels under increasing pressure. In addition, I suspect that concerns about pensions are also playing a role here – the fear of being unable to maintain the accustomed lifestyle in retirement.
Instead of skepticism, I would like to see a little more courage and optimism concerning the issue of digitalization
Franziska Tschudi Sauber
Responses differed when it came to concerns about retirement provision. The third pillar showed the best results, while the first pillar had the worst. Why are people happier with private pension provision?
The Swiss value security, and I think that we prefer those instruments that we can influence ourselves. The third pillar stands for this. Here, we can decide ourselves just how much we want to risk. Dissatisfaction with AHV is an expression of concern about its funding and the fervent desire to find a long-term solution.
The Weidmann Group operates around the world. Do you consider the political climate surrounding trade tariffs to be a real threat?
We manufacture locally in around twenty countries. In this sense, we are relatively well positioned when it comes to trade tariffs. Generally speaking, I am observing this trend with some concern, of course, although I certainly can see opportunities for Switzerland. As a small country, we can react relatively quickly and independently, and use bilateral free trade agreements to enter new markets. Lower customs duties alone are not the main goal here. These types of agreements rather allow us to become a closer and more trusted partner, as seen in the case of China.
According to the Worry Barometer, the three main characteristics of the Swiss identity are security, neutrality and the countryside. Are you surprised by this rather traditional identification?
No, I find it unremarkable in times of escalating armed conflicts and increasing migration. It makes me optimistic that there are so many who are proud of our security and safety, where a Federal Councillor can take the tram without any bodyguards. Proud of our neutrality which allows us to bring conflicting parties together at the table. And proud of our magnificent countryside that we enjoy and should care for.
What three things does Switzerland mean for you?
First, it stands for stability, based on a functioning judicial system and a strong economy. Second, for solidarity. The public stands up for minorities and the disadvantaged, which is invaluable for social peace. And third, for the powers of innovation and renewal. The best examples were the financial and economic crisis and the Swiss franc shock. It is impressive how quickly we manage to recover from crises like this one.