Helping child­ren laugh again – and giving parents space to breathe

In the service of health

Karin Perrau­din is Presi­dent of the Board of Direc­tors of Groupe Mutuel Holding and Presi­dent of the Board of Trus­tees of the Groupe Mutuel Foun­da­tion. The chari­ta­ble foun­da­tion owns the holding. Karin Perrau­din explains why this is the right legal form for the insurer and what influen­ces her own social commitment.

Insurer Groupe Mutuel belongs to a chari­ta­ble foun­da­tion. How did that come about?

In 2017, we conside­red giving the group a new legal struc­ture. At the time, we were orga­nised as an asso­cia­tion. Howe­ver, we wanted to improve our gover­nance and a pyra­mi­dal struc­ture with the Groupe Mutuel Foun­da­tion at the top gave us a more stream­li­ned and clear struc­ture. The foun­da­tion owns the holding, to which the various compa­nies within the group belong, inclu­ding basic and private insu­r­ers, service compa­nies and asset manage­ment firms.

Why did you opt for this structure?

We wanted to increase trans­pa­rency, we wanted a struc­ture that is easy to commu­ni­cate and we wanted a legal form that opera­tes on a non-profit basis, without private share­hol­ders. We do not pay divi­dends; instead, we invest in the quality of the services we provide to our policyholders.

Why was that important?

We are an important actor within the Swiss health­care system. Health insu­rance is a sensi­tive topic; with the compul­sory basic insu­rance, we fulfil a govern­men­tal mandate. As such, we wanted the company to belong to the poli­cy­hol­ders. And we wanted Groupe Mutuel to assume its social respon­si­bi­li­ties, which is why we felt it was important to ensure that part of the annual results go into social projects rela­ted to health and healthcare.

Was there an alternative?

One option would have been to form a coope­ra­tive asso­cia­tion. But with 1.3 million poli­cy­hol­ders, we felt this form was too complex. A foun­da­tion is a simp­ler form; it’s more dyna­mic and allows for spee­dier decisions.

Foun­da­ti­ons have a set purpose. Were you not concerned…

… that this might hinder our deve­lo­p­ment? No. The foun­da­tion owns the holding, and its purpose is to support health­care, rese­arch and preven­tion. The holding, on the other hand, has a broa­der set of objec­ti­ves that enable us to imple­ment our stra­tegy, invest in new busi­nesses and expand our offer through corpo­rate takeovers.

Karin Perrau­din is resi­dent of the Board of Direc­tors of Groupe Mutuel Holding and Presi­dent of the Board of Trus­tees of the Groupe Mutuel Foun­da­tion. She was Presi­dent of the Board of Direc­tors of Banque Canto­nale du Valais and Clini­que de Valère. She is a member of the manage­ment boards of Fenaco and Geneva Airport, and served as a member of the Valais canto­nal parlia­ment from 2001 to 2009.

How does the holding support the foun­da­tion financially?

One aspect we need to bear in mind is the fact that basic health insu­rance is a key busi­ness area within our group. This area is subject to the Fede­ral Health Insu­rance Act, meaning we are not permit­ted to make a profit; any profits go into basic insu­rance reser­ves. Howe­ver, we are able to make a profit in other insu­rance bran­ches. We invest these funds into impro­ving our custo­mer services and expan­ding our digi­tal offer. Some of these profits go to the foun­da­tion, usually CHF 1 million to CHF 2 million a year.

What does the foun­da­tion do with these funds?

The foundation’s acti­vi­ties can be divi­ded into three areas. First, it supports indi­vi­dual poli­cy­hol­ders who are expe­ri­en­cing diffi­cult perso­nal circum­s­tances due to health problems. For exam­ple, we recently supported a child who needed a new pair of glas­ses every year as a result of an acci­dent; basic insu­rance only covers a frac­tion of these costs. Second, we promote chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that are active in the field of health and health­care. We support social sports projects for child­ren and youths as a part­ner of the Laureus Foun­da­tion Switzerland.

And the third area?

We support rese­arch that streng­thens and impro­ves the Swiss health­care system.

Could you give us an example?

We are curr­ently support­ing a project that is rese­ar­ching a system for finan­cing treat­ments that depends more on the quality of the care than the quan­tity. In this manner, inde­pen­dent experts iden­tify ways to improve our health­care system.

How does the foun­da­tion select projects?

Today, we receive requests without any commu­ni­ca­tion on our part. As a first step, we analyse whether these requests meet the purpose of the foun­da­tion and assess the projects. We then submit a pre-selec­tion to the Board of Trus­tees, which makes the final decis­ion. We support about 80% of requests that meet the purpose of the foundation.

You mentioned that you support indi­vi­dual poli­cy­hol­ders. Does the fact that this is neces­sary mean that our health­care system is failing, or is it a sign of strength that other opti­ons are available for these cases?

In my view, it is clearly the latter. We have a strong, high-quality health­care system. Our basic insu­rance covers many forms of treat­ment, espe­ci­ally essen­tial ones. The requests we receive for indi­vi­dual support are all isola­ted cases. These can be extre­mely complex cases and unique situa­tions combi­ned with a finan­ci­ally diffi­cult family situa­tion. But these are all rare cases, which show that our system works. And for those excep­tio­nal cases, orga­ni­sa­ti­ons like ours are here to comple­ment the system.

«It shows that the system works»

Karin Perrau­din

Will foun­da­ti­ons play an incre­asingly important role?

Perso­nally, I believe that foun­da­ti­ons that are commit­ted to social concerns will gain in importance. We have strong govern­ment support, but that is not always enough. In addi­tion, problems such as dome­stic violence are addres­sed more openly today. People in these diffi­cult situa­tions turn to foun­da­ti­ons, which provide an indis­pensable service to society.

What is your view on coope­ra­tion in social projects? After all, you have expe­ri­ence in poli­tics, the private sector and the foun­da­tion community.

Switzerland’s strength is the fact that diffe­rent actors work toge­ther. The govern­ment, the private sector and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as foun­da­ti­ons have many skills that comple­ment one another. It’s a good colla­bo­ra­tion that we can foster further for the good of society as a whole. The govern­ment guaran­tees a basis. To fulfil its mission, it often uses the legal form of a foun­da­tion for subsi­dies: while foun­da­ti­ons are moni­to­red, they also bene­fit from a certain degree of inde­pen­dence. And finally, we have the private sector, which plays a role when it comes to inte­gra­tion and rehabilitation.

What are the bene­fits of the private sector?

It’s powerful, as we can see when we look at health insu­r­ers. We have a libe­ral system in which compe­ti­tion is strong and profi­ta­ble. But the entire system is also strictly regu­la­ted. The bene­fit of the private sector is the fact that it always aims to keep opera­ting costs at a mini­mum. Combi­ning the various forms and actors bene­fits the system as a whole.

Where do you find the time for your volun­teer work in addi­tion to your profes­sio­nal duties?

I have been very lucky and have achie­ved a lot thanks to my roles and respon­si­bi­li­ties. To me, giving back some of my time seemed to make sense. It gives me tremen­dous satis­fac­tion. In my job, issues tend to focus on profi­ta­bi­lity and returns; when it comes to my volun­teer work, other things matter, which crea­tes a nice balance.

You also had to deal with a cruel blow in your perso­nal life.

Talking about it is easier today: I lost my daugh­ter 10 years ago. But you are right to address this expe­ri­ence. It did change a lot of things in my life, inclu­ding some of my prio­ri­ties. The expe­ri­ence streng­the­ned the values I stand for today. When we live through tragic moments, we tend to find out which things are important and which are less so. The people we surround oursel­ves with are important, as are the values that remain. We start to think about a lot of things in rela­tive terms when we have been through some­thing like that. And it gave me addi­tio­nal moti­va­tion for some of my volun­teer work, in parti­cu­lar my work for les Pinceaux magi­ques. This chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­tion brings joy to child­ren in hospi­tal by encou­ra­ging them to paint.

Why did you choose this organisation?

Many parents start a foun­da­tion in memory of their child. I chose a diffe­rent path: I wanted to donate my time to an orga­ni­sa­tion that looks after child­ren in hospi­tal. My daugh­ter was in hospi­tal for many months, and I saw first-hand just how indis­pensable the acti­vi­ties of this orga­ni­sa­tion, and others, are for the child­ren and their parents.

Had you heard of les Pinceaux magi­ques before?

No, I encoun­te­red it when my daugh­ter was in hospi­tal. I could see how happy the child­ren were when the enter­tai­ners came to the hospi­tal to paint; pain­ting made the child­ren laugh again. But above all an occu­p­ied child means that parents can take a break. In hospi­tal, parents spend hours just watching their child brea­the. Having even just 15 minu­tes to get a coffee is tremen­dous and gives them space to brea­the themselves.

What helped you in that situation?

I was lucky enough to have an extre­mely support­ive family, and my closest friends were there for me as well, which was a great help. And in turn, an expe­ri­ence like that helps you appre­ciate the value of these friend­ships and culti­vate them.

Did you receive support from any organisations?

I was fort­u­nate: there were a lot of orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that would have supported me. Thanks to my family and friends, I did not need them, but the orga­ni­sa­ti­ons were always there. They approa­ched us and offe­red their help. There were people around us who depen­ded on that support, and that showed me just how important these orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are. Some people quickly find them­sel­ves in a compli­ca­ted or even drama­tic situa­tion when their child is taken ill or has to go to hospi­tal. They need their employer to accom­mo­date their situa­tion, for exam­ple. People who are on their own need a lot of help; that’s what these orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are there for.

Karin Perrau­din: “The most important thing is the envi­ron­ment, the people, the values that we hold dear.”

And that’s not your only social commit­ment: you are also Presi­dent of the Board of Trus­tees of Fonda­tion Fovahm.

The foun­da­tion takes in adults with mental disa­bi­li­ties, accom­pa­nies them and provi­des voca­tio­nal trai­ning. Its mission is to create an adapted living envi­ron­ment and to promote social and occu­pa­tio­nal inte­gra­tion for this group of people.

Has the pande­mic made this work harder?

Yes, defi­ni­tely. The pande­mic demands flexi­bi­lity and agility from us all; for people with disa­bi­li­ties, that can be compli­ca­ted. When someone tells them they are not able to work for an inde­fi­nite period of time and have to stay at home, they need time to adapt to that. And there are also health issues.


Depen­ding on the disa­bi­lity, it may not be possi­ble to vacci­nate some people.

How did employ­ers react?

During the pande­mic, most compa­nies main­tai­ned their inte­gra­tion plans. Employ­ers today are aware of their respon­si­bi­lity to society. We have noti­ced an increase in compa­nies that have crea­ted jobs for people with disa­bi­li­ties. Today, social respon­si­bi­lity is closely connec­ted to sustainability.

Does it help to have busi­ness repre­sen­ta­ti­ves like yours­elf on foun­da­tion boards, people who are aware of the needs of the private sector and the oppor­tu­ni­ties it has to offer?

It is important to have a diverse range of skills, expe­ri­en­ces and sensi­ti­vi­ties on any foun­da­tion or manage­ment board. Foun­da­tion board members with a back­ground in busi­ness can use their networks to find compa­nies that want to parti­ci­pate in these inte­gra­tion projects. They can also help make the foun­da­tion known and gene­rate funds. And last but not least, they have profes­sio­nal manage­ment exper­tise, which helps profes­sio­na­lise these foun­da­ti­ons and organisations.

Today, sustaina­bi­lity has become a sales argu­ment. Do Groupe Mutuel poli­cy­hol­ders feel it is important that the company belongs to a foundation?

The fact that we give back part of our profits to social commit­ments surely contri­bu­tes to our posi­tive image. But there are other reasons why poli­cy­hol­ders come to us or want to stay with us. What counts are the premi­ums, the quality of our custo­mer service, the quality of our over­all services and our human touch.

And the employees? Is the foun­da­tion a reason to be proud of their employer?

Yes, I believe it is. The values of being helpful, proac­tive and respon­si­ble are part of our corpo­rate culture, which is why it is important that the foun­da­tion conveys these values in its acti­vi­ties, parti­cu­larly through charity to others.

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