In times of video conferencing and remote work, the concept of a physical filing cabinet seems as dusty as the files it contains. Fortunately, the Ordinance on Business Records (GeBüV) has long allowed the digital storage of documents in Switzerland, and with the repeal of the Ordinance of the Federal Department of Finance on Electronic Data and Information (EIDI-V), the situation has also been brought into line for VAT documents.1 If the basic principles are observed, the digital storage of accounting documents in Switzerland is not a problem.
What are the legal requirements regarding accounting?
Accounting includes keeping track of the business transactions and facts that are necessary for the presentation of the company's assets, financial position and earnings (economic situation). The annual report and the audit report as the main accounting documents must be kept in writing with ink signature. The business books and accounting vouchers, on the basis of which the reports are prepared, may be stored not only on paper but also electronically or in a comparable manner. The prerequisite is that there is consistency with the underlying business transactions, and that the documents can be made legible again at any time.2 The details of electronic storage are regulated in the GeBüV - in addition to readability, the basic principle of integrity (i.e. authenticity and unfalsifiability) is essential.
What does this mean for companies in concrete terms?
In addition to compliance with the general principles of proper accounting (complete, truthful and systematic recording of business transactions and facts, proof of the individual accounting transactions as well as clarity, expediency and verifiability), the following principles must be observed for electronic storage: 3
The authenticity and unfalsifiability of the accounting records and the associated documents must be guaranteed.4 This means that they must be kept and stored in such a way that they cannot be changed without this being ascertainable. The information must be systematically inventoried and protected against unauthorised access.5 In particular, paper, image carriers and unalterable data carriers are regarded as unalterable information carriers. Modifiable information carriers are also permissible if they meet certain requirements. This requires, for example, technical procedures which guarantee the integrity of the stored information. However, an electronic signature is not required anymore.6
The accounts must be available for inspection and examination within a reasonable period of time. It must also be possible to make the books of account readable without the use of additional tools.7
The responsibility for the archived information must be clearly regulated and documented.8
How do providers of accounting software ensure integrity and availability?
The easiest way to ensure integrity is to avoid a so-called media break as far as possible, that is, to convert paper into electronic form as quickly as possible and not to change the format afterwards. In the case of expense receipts, everything should be electronic and in the same format from the time the paper receipt is entered into the system (e.g. data upload / photo / input): Once digitalized, the expense receipt can go through the entire approval process and reflected in the business records and the archive electronically.
The unfalsifiability and availability during the process can be ensured by means of audit log, i.e. the possibility of unambiguous identification of an expense receipt (expense ID) and an archive that can be called up at any time. This is also the approach of Yokoy, the Swiss FinTech company, which is dedicated to the automation of expense and corporate credit card processes. The audit log ensures that not only the company, its accountants and other stakeholders, but also the tax authorities can be provided with a complete audit trail that can be easily read and verified at any time. In Switzerland, the obligation to keep records is 10 years after the end of the financial year.
Attention: Where is the electronic form not enough?
Not all documents can be stored electronically: For example, the annual report must be signed in writing and everything that has been notarized must be kept in paper form (e.g. the company's articles of association). Furthermore, certain legal transactions require written form (e.g. transfer of shares), which requires either a physical signature or a qualified electronic signature (e.g. Skribble, but not DocuSign).
This article was written in cooperation with LEXR AG / Yokoy AG.
About LEXR AG
With its combination of expert know-how, fast delivery times and transparent pricing, LEXR brings 21st century legal services to Swiss companies. In the background, automation, Legal Tech and process optimization ensure high quality and fast delivery times. In the foreground, LEXR legal experts advise entrepreneurs with expert legal know how and a can-do mindset. With a fast-growing team of legal and tech advisors, LEXR supports entrepreneurs in financing rounds, FINMA requests, data protection compliance, intellectual property and day-to-day legal challenges.
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1Art. 122 MWSTV was amended and Art. 123-125 MWSTV was repealed, 2See Art. 957a and 958f OR, 3Cf. Art. 957a para. 2 OR, 4Art. 3 GeBÜV, 5Art. 8 GeBüV, 6Art. 9 GeBÜV, 7Art. 6 GeBÜV, 8Art. 7 GeBÜV