Revised version: Globalization and digitalization have reached GoBD

BTadvice 2019-Q3

By letter of July 11, 2019, the German Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium für Finanzen, “BMF”) published the revised version of the German “Principles on the proper keeping and maintenance of books, records and documents in electronic form and on data access (Grundsätze zur ordnungsmäßigen Führung und Aufbewahrung von Büchern, Aufzeichnungen und Unterlagen in elektronischer Form sowie zum Datenzugriff; “GoBD“). With far-reaching enhancements, the revised version in particular also accounts for the mega trends of globalization and digitalization – in particular for cloud systems.

With numerous supplementing regulations on the proper collection and storage of tax-relevant data, also outside the German tax jurisdiction, the BMF responded to the increasing internationalization of German businesses. Furthermore, the GoBD’s revised version also accounts for digitalization and the fact that businesses, to an increasing extent, reflect their operational procedures with the support of information or communication technologies: books and other required records are not only kept by the companies on site in electronic form by means of on-premise solutions, but are more and more outsourced to service providers of cloud environments under software-as-a-service (SaaS) agreements.

A number of innovations within the GoBD are of particular importance for companies: 

  • Use of cloud systems: cloud applications are equated with on-premise solutions. 
  • Mobile scanning: Photographing documents with a mobile device is equated with stationary scanning. 
  • Mobile scanning abroad: Admissibility of creating digital images by mobile devices also abroad. 
  • Retention of documents abroad: Transfer of paper receipts abroad and timely digitalization. 
  • Facilitation for the conversion of digital data: Maintenance of a converted version if it is fully machine-readable. 
  • Changes to procedure documentation: historicization of changes to procedure documentations. 

Increase in legal certainty and transparency
From the taxpayers’ view, the GoBD’s revised version increases legal certainty and transparency of the newly regulated tax matters. A violation of the requirements pursuant to GoBD often results in significant negative consequences for the taxpayers as the tax authorities might question the bookkeeping’s correctness which might result in a loss of the input VAT deduction or in an income estimate. 

All of the GoBD’s amendments in more detail: 

  • Use of cloud systems
    The requirement for a proper storage and archiving of data might in future also be fulfilled when using cloud systems. It is irrelevant whether the affected IT systems have been acquired and are used by the taxpayer as own hardware or software (on premise) or if they are operated in a cloud in the form of SaaS or as a combination of these systems. If, however, a cloud or cloud application is located outside of Germany, the particular requirements pursuant to Art. 146 Sec. 2a AO (German Fiscal Code) must be observed, according to which the taxpayer must file an application with the tax authorities if electronic books or other required electronic records are intended to be kept or stored abroad. 
  • Mobile scanning
    The digitalization of documents by photographic procedures with mobile devices has been equated with stationary scanning procedures. 
  • Mobile scanning abroad
    The revised GoBD provide for a digitalization of documents by photographic procedures with mobile devices also abroad, if the documents have been created or received and are directly recorded abroad. 
  • Retention of documents abroad
    Within the scope of a relocation of the electronic bookkeeping abroad which had been approved pursuant to Art. 146 Sec. 2a AO, a transfer of paper receipts outside the GoBD’s scope of application with subsequent digitalization abroad is admissible. 
  • Keeping of books by micro enterprises
    For micro-enterprises determining their profits by means of the net income method (up to EUR 17,500 annual turnover), the fulfillment  of the requirements to the records pursuant to GoBD must be evaluated by taking into account the company size. 
  • Facilitation for the conversion of digital data
    In case of several electronic reports or datasets after the conversion of electronic data into a company-specific format, it is no longer required to keep both the original digital version and the converted version. It is sufficient to keep the processed formats as evidence for the booking. Provided the dataset contains all required data, such format meets all requirements to serve as proof and must be retained with its entire content. 
  • Recording of cash and cashless daily transactions in the cash book
    A temporary joint recording of cash and cashless daily transactions in the cash book can generally not be objected if the cashless daily sales initially recorded in the cash book have been marked separately and have subsequently been deregistered from the cash book and recognized on a separate account in a transparent manner and if a counting of the cash on hand is possible at any time. 
  • Accounting of business transactions on an accrual basis
    The accounting of business transactions on an accrual basis cannot be objected if business transactions are recorded in a timely manner (cash transactions on a daily basis, cashless transactions within ten days) and if the company has ensured, by organizational precautions, that the documents are available until they are recorded. 
  • Historization of changes in procedural documentations
    Changes in procedural documentations must be historicized in a transparent manner by fully documenting the content and data of all system or procedural changes in an informative and current history. 
  • Data access
    In case of a system change or if data being subject to recording and retention requirements have been outsourced from the productive system, it is sufficient if, after the end of 6 calendar years after the year of change, the data can only be provided on a data medium (so-called “Z3 access”) unless a tax audit has been initiated by the tax authorities. 
  • Completeness
    Recording every single business transaction cannot reasonably be expected only if it is technically, economically and practically impossible to record the individual transactions. The taxpayer must prove that these requirements have been fulfilled.