Authors: Markus Vogel (Co-Chair Working Group Tax / Accounting / Structuring and Director Tax KPMG AG), Rinaldo Neff (Senior Manager Tax / Equity-based Compensation KPMG AG)

Tech start-ups may (partly) compensate their founders, developers or employees using cryptocurrency. There are various good reasons to do so. It’s an effective way for innovative tech industry employers to attract the most talented people, and it frees up fiat funds for investment in the growing business.

However, caution is critical. As these companies work on closing their accounts and preparing their salary statements for the year 2017, they should carefully assess whether allocations of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and Ether, own tokens or similar to founders, developers or employees triggered withholding and/or reporting obligations. As a consequence they possibly need to prepare for (immediate) Swiss tax and/or social security payments in fiat currencies. Answers to the following questions, are important factors for further analysis:

  • How is the cryptocurrency payment qualified for legal and tax purposes?
  • Where did the founders, developers or employees work and live at the time of payment?
  • What is considered to be the date of realization for tax and social security purposes? Payment in cryptocurrency or conversion of cryptocurrency into fiat?
  • What is the cryptocurrency intended to compensate?
  • Will work need to be performed in the future or was the work performed in the past?

In most cases, Swiss tax law requires affected start-ups to prepare a specific annex to the 2017 salary certificates – in some certain circumstances even if no signed employment agreement is in place.

Due to the complexity of the topic and the current lack of clear rules or common practice, it is crucial to verify each case individually. In general, it is advisable to clarify the reporting obligations, tax and social security aspects of such grants and consequently assure correct withholdings by the employer or “employee”. Failure to do so may not only trigger subsequent tax and social security obligations, but also late payment interest, penalties and/or fines from the corresponding authorities – payable in fiat.

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KPMG AG, which is a Strategic Partner of the Crypto Valley Association, carefully navigates your crypto business through all tax and accounting aspects (e.g. income tax, transfer pricing, value added tax, withholding tax and categorization of tokens) and provides innovative and sustainable structuring solutions in order to further fuel the development of your professional endeavors in the Crypto Valley.