A new federal law, which came into force on June 1 2002, has removed legal restrictions and resolved uncertainties regarding the use of electronic media for bookkeeping and archiving purposes (revision of Articles 957 and following of the Swiss Code of Obligations). The new law provides that electronic bookkeeping and archiving of account records will satisfy the legal requirements for proper bookkeeping, regardless of the specific technology used.

Additionally, a revised ordinance of the Swiss Federal Council sets out the requirements which electronic media used for bookkeeping and archiving must satisfy in order to comply with the requirements for proper bookkeeping.

The most important changes are as follows:

  • While account books previously had to be archived on paper or on microfiche, they may now be kept and archived electronically or in a similar manner. The reference to 'a similar manner' leaves the legal framework open to future technological developments.

  • The annual inventory, which previously had to be printed on paper and signed, may now be archived electronically. However, the obligation to print out and sign the annual balance sheet and the annual profit and loss statement remains.

  • The duty to keep accounting records now ends 10 years after the respective fiscal year. Previously, it expired after 10 years following the end of the calendar year in which the respective record was created.

  • Any electronic or similar technology used for storage of the account books or records must ensure that all changes to stored documents are recorded (eg, by using electronic signature or encryption methods). This principle is new and may require companies to review their procedures.
  • Electronic account books and account records have the same conclusive force as paper (or microfiche) documents.

  • Since the applicable tax laws generally refer to the accounting rules of the Swiss Code of Obligations, the tax authorities are expected to adhere to the above principles.

This adaptation of the technical requirements for electronic accounting is intended to allow Swiss businesses to benefit more fully from the opportunities to increase efficiency presented by state-of-the-art document management technologies.

For further information on this topic please contact AndrĂ¡s Gurovits or Thomas Meili at Niederer Kraft & Frey by telephone (+41 1 217 1000) or by fax (+41 1 217 1400) or by email ([email protected] or [email protected]).