This year retirement has become the hot issue in France, with debates raging in the legislature and in the streets. Given the enormous interest this has generated, Swiss Life seized the opportunity to commission a survey of CEOs of micro and small businesses, taking the pulse of leaders who employ nearly 7 million people in the country. The results were eye-opening: while 67% are personally interested in the current debates taking place, 77% admit to not addressing the pension investment needs of their employees. Only 19% have implemented a supplementary pension scheme for them.
Swiss Life commissioned the polling institute LH2 to conduct the survey of CEOs of medium-sized companies (fewer than 200 employees) and micro-enterprises (1 – 10 employees). The results were announced to the media at a press conference hosted by Swiss Life in Paris on September 10, 2010.

Concerned but uninformed
Concerning small business leaders themselves, there was a sizable gap between their personal interest in the ongoing debate in France (67% following it closely), with even more (79%) concerned about how its outcome will impact them personally, and their knowledge of pension specifics. However, only 50% admitted that they had sufficient knowledge of the issue. Very few claimed to have a strong grasp on the matter. For Swiss Life, this underlines a serious need to provide concrete information and advice to these leaders on how to best prepare for retirement.

Employee Pension Schemes: Room for Improvement
With 77% of leaders responding that employee pension schemes was not a priority for them, whether as part of the overall company strategy or as part of their HR benefits offer, it is clear that the actual concept of setting up such schemes was largely ignored, despite the value they can bring. Why the disinterest? Lack of information and the fact that employees were not approaching employers to enquire about them – only 9% of those polled had been solicited by their employees. CEOs claimed that it would help if the pension taxation were simplified, and would like to see tax incentives as well, in addition to information on existing schemes. According to Eric Le Baron, CEO Swiss Life Assurance et Patrimoine, “these results confirm our conviction that these companies need access to clear and stable schemes. CEOs have a key role to play in ensuring safe retirements for their employees; offering sound retirement schemes as part of a hiring package can make companies much more attractive in their efforts to find strong candidates for employment and keep them.”

What’s in a retirement scheme?

The current focus on retirement has spurred a majority of company directors to enter into personal pension schemes to complement what they will receive from the State. Their expectations are high, with over one-third looking for related tax incentives. For Jean-Francois Levionnois, president of LH2, “it is no surprise that small business leaders are more interested in their own retirement schemes, given what’s going on in France today.” Sixty-seven percent said they’ve already started, with a majority turning using life-insurance schemes. “However,” he continued, “they are unaware of what they can actually expect. Only 15% know how much retirement they will receive, and 37% believe they will receive less than half of their current salary. These business leaders need personalised advice in planning for retirement.”

Getting the word out
On September 10, 2010 Swiss Life France welcomed journalists and opinion leaders to a presentation of survey results. Held at Swiss Life’s premises, attendees were welcomed by Charles Relecom, CEO of Swiss Life France, with Mr. Levionnois of LH2 on hand to present the findings. Then followed a round-table discussion on the subject, with Mr. Le Baron of Swiss Life, Diaa Elyaacoubi, CEO of Streamcore system and Marc Hofer, President of the NEXTIM Group – providing input from small business leaders on the subject.
Summing up, Mr. Le Baron said “Financing one’s retirement means being aware of one’s current situation and having the ability to put in place a scheme that truly corresponds to one’s personal needs. To meet the challenge of retirement, the key is to avoid believing in miracles. Everyone – be they business leaders, employees, advisors, insurers or politicians – needs to act responsibly.”

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