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Cryptocurrencies and their accounting treatment: Swiss Code of Obligations, Swiss GAAP FER and IFRS in comparison

By 24. November 2023Februar 2nd, 2024No Comments

Co-Author: Timea Nagy, LL.M, CIPP/E Senior Legal Counsel

The increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Tether (USDT), Binance (BNB), Ripple (XRP) and Solanca (SOL) has led to new challenges in the area of accounting and taxation.

The Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) as well as Swiss GAAP FER and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) provide guidelines for the treatment of cryptocurrencies in company accounting.

Definition of cryptocurrencies

In Switzerland, cryptocurrencies encompass a range of digital assets recognized within the country’s evolving legal and regulatory framework. While Swiss law lacks a specific definition for cryptocurrencies, the revised Federal Ordinance on Banks and Savings Institutions defines “crypto-based assets” as assets issued primarily to function as payment instruments or facilitate money or value transfers.
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) categorizes tokens into three primary types: payment, utility, and asset. Payment tokens, commonly referred to as cryptocurrencies, serve as mediums of exchange or value transfer mechanisms. Utility tokens grant digital access rights to services or applications, while asset tokens represent financial assets, like equity or debt claims against an issuer. It is important to note that tokens can also fall into multiple categories, and hybrid tokens with more than one category characteristics exist. Additionally, stablecoins have gained prominence in recent years. Stablecoins are a type of digital token designed to maintain a stable value. The value of a stablecoin is usually pegged to an underlying asset or a combination of assets deemed stable, which could include fiat currencies, real estate, securities, commodities, or a combination of these assets.

Treatment of cryptocurrencies under Swiss Code of Obligations (CO)

According to the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO), companies must recognise and value the assets in their accounts. The EXPERTsuisse Accounting Commission has published recommendations on the treatment of cryptocurrencies. According to EXPERTsuisse, such currencies fulfil the capitalisation requirements under Art. 959 para. 2 OR and should therefore be activated.

Classification of cryptocurrencies according to the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO)

The classification of cryptocurrencies in the balance sheet depends on the holding period and the purpose of the portfolio. If the company holds cryptocurrencies with a short-term intention, they can be shown as a separate item “Securities” in current assets or as part of the item “Other current assets with market price”. However, if the company intends to hold the cryptocurrencies for the long term, they should be recognised as securities under financial assets. Another possible balance sheet item, although not recommended by EXPERTsuisse, is intangible assets in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Valuation of cryptocurrencies according to the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO)

Irrespective of the balance sheet classification, there is an option for the valuation of cryptocurrencies. Irrespective of its balance sheet classification, the cryptocurrency can be recognised either at acquisition or production cost less impairment or at observable market prices in an active market in accordance with Art. 960b of the Swiss Code of Obligations. The valuation is based on acquisition costs / the lower of cost or market principle, as cryptocurrencies are not subject to any loss in value due to use or age. However, value adjustments must be made for “other losses in value” if the market value is below the acquisition or previous book value. Alternatively, both the valuation of the Swiss Federal Tax Administration and the consideration of actual transaction prices on trading centres / crypto exchanges (e.g. BinanceCoinbase ExchangeKrakenOKX) relevant to the company can be taken into account.

Treatment of cryptocurrencies according to Swiss GAAP FER

Swiss GAAP FER does not provide any specific rules on the treatment of cryptocurrencies in accounting. It is recommended that the economic content of cryptocurrencies and the true and fair view be taken into account.

Classification of cryptocurrencies according to Swiss GAAP FER

The allocation of cryptocurrencies to balance sheet items according to Swiss GAAP FER varies. For example, cryptocurrencies cannot be considered liquid assets as they do not fulfil the criteria for cash-like assets. Accounts receivable are problematic because neither issuers nor users are obliged to do so. Classification as intangible assets in accordance with Swiss GAAP FER also fails due to capitalisation criteria and material delimitation.
An allocation to inventories could be possible for companies that use cryptocurrencies as a tool for their services. However, the valuation based on current market prices is challenging due to the strong price volatility. Securities could serve as an appropriate balance sheet item if cryptocurrencies are recognised at current values, although this can lead to problems if market values vary.

Valuation of cryptocurrencies according to Swiss GAAP FER

There are also no specific regulations for the valuation of cryptocurrencies in accordance with Swiss GAAP FER. Companies can choose between acquisition cost less impairment or valuation at current value. The choice of valuation method should be based on an objective estimate and reflect the true and fair view.

Treatment of cryptocurrencies in accordance with IFRS

The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) have not yet published any specific accounting standards for cryptocurrencies. Therefore, the treatment of cryptocurrencies under IFRS should be based on the so-called “professional judgement”.
Accounting for cryptocurrencies in accordance with IFRS guidelines differs from national laws such as the Swiss Code of Obligations or the Swiss GAAP FER standards. There is a lack of a clear definition for cryptocurrencies in the context of liquidity in order to classify them as liquid assets. Cryptocurrencies are not considered receivables as they are not enforceable and could be properly recognised as inventories, especially if they are held for resale. They can be recognised as inventories or intangible assets, whereby they can be measured at observable market prices, taking into account amortisation and impairment.


The development of cryptocurrencies presents companies with accounting challenges. Correct classification, measurement and disclosure require an understanding of the regulatory framework and accounting principles. Companies in Switzerland should regularly review and adjust their accounting practices to ensure that they comply with current developments and legal requirements.

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