Switzerland’s Time Bank


The number of “empty-nesters” is increasing and becoming a serious issue throughout the world. Switzerland’s idea of the “time bank” for the seniors may be a good inspiration.

What is a time bank? Time-based units accumulate in the time bank and can be used to purchase time-based services from other individuals when needed. Switzerland, with its long traditions of alternative currencies, banking and social solidarity, is home to numerous time banking programs.

A Chinese student studying in Switzerland made a statement based on his experience.

I rented a house near the school during my stay in Switzerland. Christina, my landlord, was a 67-year-old lady who worked as a teacher in a school before she retired. Switzerland’s retirement plan makes her worry-free in her later years. However, it surprised me when I found out that she has a “job” which is to take care of an 87-year-old senior who lives alone. I wondered if she doing this for money. Her answer surprised me: “I am not doing this for money, I am doing this to earn my time in the time bank. When I’m getting older and having a hard time to take care of myself, I can withdraw the ‘saving’ and use it.”

When I first heard about the concept of a time bank, I was so curious and asked Christina about it. The original “Time Bank” was a retirement project developed by the Swiss Federal Ministry of Social Insurance. They start to save time from taking care of the seniors when they are young, and then using it when they get old, sick, or need someone to take care of them. All applicants must be healthy, communicative and kind enough enable to spend some time taking care of the seniors need help. The hours of service will be deposited in the personal account of the social security system.

She has to take care of Lisa twice a week who lives alone and needs care services. She will spend two hours each time to help her to run some errands, cleaning, taking her out for a walk and chatting with her. According to the agreement, after one year of her service, the time bank will calculate her work hours and sending her a “time bank card”. When she needs someone to take care of her, she can withdraw the time that she has been saving at the time bank. After they verified, the time bank will assign a volunteer to the hospital or her home to for the service.

There was a time when I got a phone call from Christina, she said she fell down while she was cleaning the window. I rushed back home and sent her to the hospital. After being examined by a doctor, Christina’s ankle cracked and needed to stay in bed for a while. Just as I was applying for days off to take care of her, she told me that I didn’t have to worry about her; she already filed in the application to withdraw her time from the bank. Within two hours, the time bank sent a volunteer to take care of her.

Nowadays, “Time Bank” has become a common practice in Switzerland. It does not only save its country’s retirement expenses but also solves some other social issues. Many Swiss are very supportive of this type of senior care. According to the Swiss retirement agency survey, more than half of the young Swiss also want to participate. The Swiss government also specializes in legislation to support this “time bank” retirement system.