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I live in Germany and have a German €-denominated credit card. I used to download my monthly transactions in CSV format, but after a recent web site redesign, the new credit card web site only allows downloads as PDF.

I contacted the bank about this, and they replied that German law requires them to give the transactions in a read-only format such as PDF.

I don't know what law they're referring to, but this seems far-fetched to me. I could see a law requiring them to make statements available in a read-only format, but I find it hard to believe that the law would insist that exclusively read-only format is permitted.

Would anyone be able to locate the law in question, so I can read it for myself? (I can read German reasonably well.) Articles about this law or other commentary would be welcome as well, in English or German.

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The laws you are looking for are §§144 ff Abgabeordnung (AO) and are for those who are required by law (earnings greater € 500000) to retain their bank statements and wish to do so in an electronic form (§146a AO).

So when needed as proof for the tax office, this unchangeable PDF format is needed.

The law does not forbid the bank to also give out the bank statements in another form (not acceptable by the Federal Ministry of Finance). The CSV format would be one such format.


Sonderpflichten für Besserverdiener
Für Privatpersonen mit positiven Einkünften von mehr als 500.000 Euro im Jahr besteht eine besondere Aufbewahrungsfrist für Kontoauszüge von sechs Jahren. Die gesetzliche Aufbewahrungspflicht für Unterlagen von Personen, die zur Buchhaltung verpflichtet sind, beträgt übrigens zehn Jahre.

Special duties for high earners
For individuals with positive income of more than 500,000 euros a year there is a special retention period for bank statements of six years. Incidentally, the legal retention requirement for documents from persons who are obliged to keep accounts is ten years.

Elektronischer Kontoauszug gilt als Nachweis
Immer mehr Bankkunden ziehen elektronische Kontoauszüge der papiergebundenen Form vor. Da stellt sich die Frage, ob die digitalen Belege im Ernstfall genauso als Zahlungsnachweis gelten. Das Bundesministerium der Finanzen hat erklärt, dass dies der Fall ist, sofern das elektronische Dokument vorher vom Kontoinhaber auf seine Richtigkeit überprüft worden ist. Wenn ein Steuerpflichtiger also einen Kontoauszug vorlegt, den eine Bank im unveränderbaren PDF-Format erstellt hat, gilt seine Nachweispflicht als erfüllt. Da das Bundesfinanzministerium den Ausdruck des elektronischen Kontoauszugs jedoch lediglich als Kopie des Originals ansieht, sollten Betroffene das digitale Dokument besser nicht vor Ablauf der jeweiligen Aufbewahrungsfrist löschen.

Electronic bank statements serve as proof
More and more bank customers prefer electronic bank statements to paper-based forms. This raises the question of whether the digital vouchers also serve as proof of payment in an emergency. The Federal Ministry of Finance has stated that this is the case if the electronic document has been checked for accuracy by the account holder. If a taxpayer presents an account statement that a bank has created in the unchangeable PDF format, its obligation to provide evidence is deemed to be fulfilled. However, since the Federal Ministry of Finance regards the printout of the electronic account statement only as a copy of the original, those affected should not delete the digital document before the respective retention period has expired.


Sources:

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    This is absurd. Someone should dig out a PDF editor and bring down this house of cards. – Joshua Mar 3 '20 at 22:28
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    @Joshua: While it is indeed absurd to call PDFs unchangeable (unveränderbar), they really only need something that's as reliable as the paper copies that they were accepting before. And with modern home printers, the savvy consumer can forge those too. – Toby Bartels Mar 3 '20 at 22:39
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    Sounds like the bank simply forgot or hid the feature with the site design! Further, it's possible to sign PDFs during creation - while modification may be easy perform, that the file is not the original / has been tampered with is also easily detected. – ti7 Mar 3 '20 at 23:03
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    @Joshua The PDF delivered by the financial institution is probably digitally signed. If that is the case, if you tamper with it you will not be able to regenerate the signature. – John Wu Mar 4 '20 at 6:36
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    It would seem that a properly digitally signed PDF should be more tamper-proof than a paper statement, shouldn't it? Also, relevant XKCD. – gerrit Mar 4 '20 at 10:31

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