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Pension Evolution: Digital Empowers Customers to Control Their Investments

In 2020, Glarner Kantonalbank (GLKB) came to EPAM with an innovative digital investment idea. Switzerland’s pension system has three parts, but the middle one, the so-called “second pillar,” was being underutilized from an investment perspective.

While the other two pillars contain government-issued and private benefits, the second pillar is the critical piece of retirement savings that includes contributions from both employers and employees. GLKB proposed capitalizing on a missed opportunity: When workers move from job to job, and sometimes in and out of the country, their savings can languish. That’s because second-pillar funds automatically go into a “black box,” earning no or low interest, until the worker starts a new job in Switzerland, which could be a gap spanning months or years. 

GLKB envisioned freeME, a first-of-its-kind, self-service application that gives people control over how that money is invested while they are in transition.

Making History

Established in 1884, GLKB provides retail, private and commercial banking services. A century ago, it supported the growth of the local textile industry, one of Switzerland’s earliest industrial hubs. Today, technology is what drives the bank’s position as a pioneer. GLKB ushers digital solutions to market, offering white-label versions to other financial institutions.

The bank, which is listed on the Swiss SIX stock exchange, the country’s principal exchange, knew the second pillar represented an enormous opportunity and they came to EPAM with a clear vision. GLKB wanted workers to be able to invest their funds easily, based on their risk tolerance, as they navigate multiple job transitions over the course of their careers.

Like many developed countries, Switzerland has a population that skews older, which means more pressure on retirement funds. Although there are some competing solutions that assist tax-optimized savings within the third pillar, freeME, which launched in July, is a novel B2C platform that enables users to choose investments for their pension money from the second pillar.

Imagining the Investor

The first step was to truly understand the people who would want to use freeME. They might be a 50-something Swiss citizen looking for a new job, or a 30-year-old expat, who has started a career in Switzerland and is returning home. With research into key consumer groups, EPAM’s experts in user experience (UX) were able to refine GLKB’s original concept to optimize its appeal and ease of use. As part of that work, EPAM:

  • Identified and interviewed the main user profiles to verify their needs, understand their pain points and determine the most appropriate solutions;
  • Interviewed all GLKB project stakeholders (such as product management, support, marketing, legal and IT) to understand their needs and concerns;
  • Mapped the user journeys and tested them with prospective users;
  • Identified a new target user group: financial advisors.

EPAM’s comprehensive UX research helped sharpen the various user profiles and, importantly, made it clear that not everyone is comfortable moving francs around digitally. In response, we redesigned the ecosystem to allow financial advisors, beginning in January 2022, to access the platform on behalf of clients. Individuals will still be able to use freeME on their own, but they will also have the option of selecting a financial advisor to help them make investment decisions. The B2B partner platform will also enable advisors to offer freeME as part of their services, earning fees in the process.

Traditionally UX research is done in person, but due to the pandemic, EPAM pivoted quickly online, reimagining our sprint to capture all the needed information from prospective users and stakeholders. EPAM’s sprint, a five-day workshop inspired by the Google Design Sprint, brings together all key project participants to review and confirm research findings and to validate the refined application concept with real users via prototype testing. Our successful online sprint is a credit to our experienced moderator, motivated GLKB staff and plenty of interactive digital tools. 

Creating the Technology

Once the UX research broadened and sharpened the vision, EPAM engineers partnered with GLKB to develop and implement the complete solution, including the freeME application, the cloud-based server infrastructure and a support team.

The freeME application was built using modern web technologies (React/Typescript) on the front end, which provide a rich and intuitive user interface. The back-end platform is Java-based with database-as-a-service, which aligns with GLKB’s best practices.  

Development was done using the Agile/Scrum development methodology, working closely with GLKB. High quality software is guaranteed by EPAM’s EngX 360 model, with a focus on automation, including automated system and regression testing, infrastructure provisioning and automated build and deployment (CI/CD). 

EPAM also implemented the integration with freeME’s external systems, including the investment provider Liberty Vorsorge, the GLKB data warehouse, a fund information provider, an SMS service for two-factor authentication and an identification-checking service. 

The freeME application and platform are hosted on Microsoft Azure-based cloud infrastructure. Azure offered cost and feature advantages and accelerated the development and deployment of the system. Located in the new Microsoft Switzerland-North data center, the Swiss-based data center ensures that all GLKB’s customer data remains in country. The infrastructure is based on modern container-based components with automated infrastructure provisioning and deployment.


Looking Forward

With the B2C and the B2B solutions live, GLKB offers a new way to optimize retirement investments. And they have big plans. The new infrastructure for investing and managing pension savings was created to evolve, and GLKB will be well placed to develop new products, such as third-pillar offerings and white-label applications or other partnerships. GLKB is positioned to shape important retirement investment opportunities for anyone working in Switzerland, and EPAM is proud to be part of these important innovations. 

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“EPAM’s contribution was essential to bring our idea to life. We felt the team’s strong commitment and dedication from day one.” 

Sven Wiederkehr
CEO, Glarner Kantonalbank


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