Peter Binswanger

The career of Peter Binswanger (1916-1997), from Thurgau, illustrated the continuous interplay between the state and the private sector in social security. Initially, Binswanger was a lawyer in the Federal Social Insurance Office before becoming the director of a life insurance company. He therefore played a key role in both developing and implementing the three-pillar doctrine in old age provision.

After completing his law studies with a doctorate, Peter Binswanger entered civil service in March 1941, at the age of 25. The young lawyer was closely involved in the introduction of two major social security schemes: the income compensation scheme for militia soldiers (EO) and old age and survivors’ insurance (AHV). Following his service at the Federal Office for Industry, Trade and Labour (BIGA), Binswanger became secretary of the Federal Expert Commission on EO during the Second World War. Once he transferred to the Federal Social Insurance Office (BSV) at the beginning of 1944, he became a member of a small group of senior civil servants – joined by Arnold Saxer and Ernst Kaiser – which prepared the introduction of the AHV under the leadership of federal councillor Walther Stampfli. As division head, Binswanger made a substantial contribution to the drafting of the federal AHV bill in the summer of 1945. At the beginning of the 1950s – a time characterised by the Korean War and defence programmes – Binswanger worked on ensuring the long-term development of the EO. After 15 years of civil service, he left the federal administration in 1956 for a position at the Winterthur Life insurance company.

This change in his career path had its political reasons. As a member of the Free Democratic Party and advocate of free-market ideas, Binswanger no longer wanted to contribute to a further expansion of social insurance. He preferred to get involved in developing private forms of provision. He was quickly appointed as the head of Winterthur group insurance division and developed pension funds solutions providing supplementary benefits to the meagre AHV pensions. Backed by the directors of all major life insurance companies, Binswanger founded a working group in 1959 with the aim of convincing business to defend private pension funds against the further expansion of the AHV. This groundwork contributed to the development of the ‘three-pillar model’, which emphasised from the mid-1960s onwards the need to share responsibilities between the AHV (the first pillar), occupational pension funds (the second pillar) and individual old age provision (the third pillar). The adoption of the new AHV constitutional article in December 1972 which encompassed the principle of a second compulsory occupational pension pillar represented a major success for Binswanger and the employer organisations that supported the three pillar model. This thwarted the previous push for a massive expansion of the AHV by way of "people's pensions" (Volkspensionen). This popular initiative driven by the far left would have restricted the expansion of private provision.

In 1981, Binswanger, now a a member of the general direction of Winterthur Life, received his first AHV pension – shortly before the Federal Law on Occupational Provision (BVG) entered into force. He was renowned as the tireless grey eminence of old age provision; he became president of the foundation Pro Senectute and wrote a history of the AHV in 1987. From a civil servant to a champion of the free market:  Binwanger’s career embodies the key role of private insurers in the organisation of Swiss social security.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Leimgruber Matthieu (2008), Solidarity without the state? Business and the shaping of the Swiss welfare state, 1890–2000, Cambridge, Binswanger Peter (1987), Histoire de l'AVS. Assurance vieillesse et survivants suisse, Zürich. (deutsche Fassung: Geschichte der AHV,  Zurich, 1986).