The Swiss Federal Supervisory Authority for Foundations, the Eidgenössische Stiftungsaufsicht or ESA, wants to make the most of digitalisation, and that’s why it launched the eESA project in 2018. Its objective is ‘to enable the statutory supervisory tasks of the Supervisory Authority to be undertaken electronically and via automated processes wherever possible in the future.’ Instead of sending pieces of paper by post, charities should now be able to communicate with the Supervisory Authority digitally via an online application. Overall, this is intended to simplify processes and make them more efficient. The ESA isn’t the only stakeholder to benefit from this: the charities in question will also benefit. The ESA currently supervises 4,500 foundations, and at present, its supervisory duties fill 89 filing cabinets, each with four drawers. They are stuffed full of annual reports and the correspondence associated with them (plus documents that arrive digitally via email and are then printed and stored in a paper file), statutes and regulations. And these mountains of paper are only getting bigger. Even though charities are currently being established at a slower rate than a few years ago, there are still more new foundations being established than there are old ones being dissolved. In addition, the number of complex cases is on the up.
A fully automated annual report
One of eESA’s explicit objectives is that the new solution should function continuously on one particular medium, with processes ideally being digitalised from beginning to end. This applies to annual reports, in particular: the intention is for foundations to handle this process themselves. In the future, they will digitally upload their data and documents straight to a tool. These documents will then pass electronically from the foundations, auditors or lawyers to the ESA. The information provided will be automatically triaged on the basis of the documents submitted, allocating charities to either green, orange or red groups. While charities in the green group can make use of fully automated processes, those in the red group will always be passed to a case worker. A charity that is heavily in debt would be put in the red group, for example. Requirements in terms of the form of submissions will also change so that the potential offered by digitalisation can be exploited to the fullest. Previously, part of the report provided by charities and auditors about their use of funds took the form of free text. In future, a summary will be all that’s needed, supplemented with structured information such as numbers, yes/no answers or a choice of pre-provided answers.
One record, and one record only
Even formal processes like changing statutes or incorporating new foundations will be completed with electronic assistance in the future. In addition, basic documents are to be scanned in and made available electronically, with this structured, electronically stored data also making it easier to generate statistics. If that weren’t enough, the ESA is hoping to make things even simpler by implementing a ‘once-only’ principle. At present, basic information about a charity is stored in all kinds of places, whether on paper, in specialist ESA applications or within other state systems. The once-only principle means that data will only be stored in one place in the future, making it easier to update, in particular.
To be launched in 2021/22
The ESA has selected 20 different charities to be pilot users. These charities will take part in workshops to explore the requirements for the new tool. Foundation associations and cantonal foundation supervisory bodies, as well as representatives from audit firms, are also taking part in the dialogue. It is planned that the project will run until 2021/22, and its implementation is expected to take place in stages, always including the institutions mentioned.
 «Das Projekt eESA nimmt Fahrt auf», Dr. Adelheid Bürgi-Schmelz, Stiftungsreport 2019, S. 38.