News
21.03.2024

What the new crypto AEOI means for banks 

More and more banks are offering their clients the opportunity to invest in crypto-assets. From 2026, these must be reported under a new OECD standard. Banks should check the extent to which they are affected by these rules well in advance.

Crypto-assets fast becoming regulated mainstream investments

Crypto-assets are once again on everyone’s lips at the moment. The “Crypto winter” appears to have given way to renewed euphoria, with the price of Bitcoin – a yardstick for the entire industry – racing to fresh highs. Momentum seems strong in the Swiss financial centre too, although crypto-investments and everyday applications of crypto still have a long way to go before they can be regarded as mainstream. Several retail banks have recently launched crypto offerings,  giving an increasing number of clients the opportunity to invest in crypto-assets through their regular bank and thus profit from their expected increase in value. There are plenty of signs that numerous other banks will follow suit in the foreseeable future, steadily increasing the availability of crypto-investment opportunities on the Swiss mass market.

Crypto AEOI applies in Switzerland from January 2026

In autumn 2022, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) presented its Crypto-Asset Reporting Framework (CARF), a form of automatic exchange of information (AEOI) specific to digital assets. This crypto AEOI became a binding minimum standard last year. Switzerland is in the process of drafting a law, the consultation on which is planned for May 2024. Specifically, this means that, from 1 January 2026 (the date on which the crypto AEOI is planned to enter into force in Switzerland), providers of crypto services must document their clients in accordance with the CARF requirements and report clients domiciled outside Switzerland to the Federal Tax Administration (FTA). The FTA will then forward this information to the clients’ countries of domicile. This is intended to increase tax transparency with regard to digital assets globally, as was done years ago for traditional assets when AEOI and the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) were introduced.

From the banks’ perspective, a level playing field for different types of financial service provider is to be welcomed in principle. However, the experience gained in implementing AEOI and the FATCA shows that introducing a tax reporting regime in mass-market business creates a huge workload for banks. It is therefore important for them to assess the CARF and the extent to which it affects them well in advance. We advise even those that have not (yet) positioned themselves as crypto-banks to gain an initial overview of the specific features of this crypto AEOI. The explanations below will help them to get started.

Definition of “relevant crypto-assets”

The CARF requirements are triggered primarily by assets that are traded or held by a client. In principle, they apply to all digital assets based on cryptography or a similar technology that are used for investment or payment purposes. In other words, a bank must comply with the CARF whenever it comes into contact with such assets in whatever form, for example when it offers its clients crypto custody accounts, holds crypto-assets in custody for them or accepts orders to buy or sell crypto-assets.

The CARF definition is centred on cryptography as a purely technical characteristic of the asset. For example, Bitcoin – the most popular crypto-asset of all – is cryptography-based and therefore most definitely qualifies as a “relevant crypto-asset” under the crypto AEOI. Conventional shares and bonds, on the other hand, are made tradable by means of securitisation and thus do not meet the cryptography criterion, meaning that they only have to be reported under the existing AEOI, not the crypto AEOI. Likewise, exchange-traded funds invested in Bitcoin and structured products with a crypto-asset as their underlying do not qualify as relevant crypto-assets. They are in fact traditional financial products and reportable only under the existing AEOI. If, however, a stake in a company in the form of a share or corporate bond is tokenised (as opposed to traditionally securitised), the resulting token qualifies as a relevant crypto-asset under the crypto AEOI. Since it is the function of an asset that matters under the traditional AEOI and the technical characteristics under the crypto AEOI, this token would be reportable under both AEOI regimes. The introduction of the crypto AEOI therefore means that tokenised securities of this kind have to be reported twice. This is a disadvantage for projects promoting the tokenisation of traditional assets.

Illustration: AEOI/CARF classification of assets (not exhaustive) 

Even banks that do not currently offer crypto services and therefore have no urgent need to implement the CARF should acquaint themselves with its definition of relevant crypto assets. This is the only way to ensure that they do not unknowingly come into contact with such assets and become “reporting crypto-asset providers” under the CARF.

Not only crypto-banks affected

The CARF defines the category of “reporting crypto-asset providers” broadly. The definition covers any individual or entity that provides commercial services relating to crypto-assets for or on behalf of clients or makes a trading platform available. “Relevant transactions”, meanwhile, are defined as any exchange between fiat money and relevant crypto-assets or between one or more forms of relevant crypto-assets. Banks positioning themselves as crypto-banks must definitely implement the CARF. Traditional banks working together with a crypto-bank for their crypto offering also qualify, prima facie, as reporting crypto-asset providers under the CARF. This still applies if they do not hold their clients’ crypto-assets in custody themselves but merely issue orders to exchange fiat money for crypto assets or vice versa and replicate holdings in client portfolios.

The crypto offerings of many banks operating in this field are still very limited at present. On the mass market, for example, it is common for just a small range of crypto-assets to be offered, with no facility for booking tokens in or out. At the same time, many banks are restricting their crypto offerings to clients who are solely domiciled in Switzerland for tax purposes and thus not reportable under AEOI or the CARF. That said, it is important to monitor the CARF provisions and ensure that the requisite processes are in place in the event that, for example, a crypto client becomes reportable on moving abroad. Furthermore, the Swiss banks’ crypto offerings are continually evolving, and they are unlikely to continue denying their international clients these services over the longer term. 

InsightTax

Authors

Andreas Rohrer
Policy Advisor Tax & Economic Policy
+41 58 330 62 62

Media Contact

Deborah Jungo-Schwalm
Senior Communications Manager
+41 58 330 62 73
Dagmar Laub
Head of Communications & Public Affairs - Member of the Executive Board
+41 58 330 62 06