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FAQs: OpenOwnership

On April 3, 2017, the public beta of the OpenOwnership Register launches. Below, we answer some frequently asked questions about the project and the register. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you’re wondering about something that isn’t covered here.

What is OpenOwnership? OpenOwnership’s central goal is to build an open global beneficial ownership register, which will serve as an authoritative source of data about who owns companies, for the benefit of all. This data will be global and linked across jurisdictions, industries, and linkable to other datasets too. The public beta of the OpenOwnership Register will launch on April 3, 2017 – the anniversary of the Panama Papers leak.

Alongside the register, OpenOwnership is developing a universal and open data standard for beneficial ownership, providing a solid conceptual and practical foundation for collecting and publishing beneficial ownership data. An initial version of the data standard will also be released on April 3, 2017.

What’s a public beta? Our platform is a work in progress. The Phase 1 of our project (concluding in April 2017) is focusing on the creation of a beta platform with enough functionality to be useful and to get constructive feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders. In other words, while you’re browsing the Register, let us know if you spot something that can be improved!

Who’s behind it? OpenOwnership is driven by a steering group composed of leading transparency NGOs, including Global Witness, Open Contracting Partnership, Web Foundation, Transparency International, and the B Team, as well as OpenCorporates, the largest open database of companies in the world. The UK’s Department for International Development is supporting the project in Phase 1. Zosia Sztykowski coordinates the work of the steering group and manages the project.

Where does the data on the beta version of the Register come from? The data comes from two regulatory sources: the UK’s Persons of Significant Control (PSC) Register, and Slovakia’s Register of Public Sector Partners. We have also transcribed beneficial ownership data from the initial Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative beneficial ownership reports of 23 countries.

We’re also very excited that several companies have submitted their own beneficial ownership to the platform, helping test and provide feedback in the process.

How is using the OpenOwnership Register different than searching the UK’s Persons of Significant Control Register? There are a few differences: first, on the OpenOwnership Register, you’ll be able to search for the names of people – a function not yet available on the PSC Register. Additionally, the form for submitting data to the OpenOwnership Register solves a few problems (for instance, requiring a beneficial owner’s year of birth to be in the past and allowing a specific percentage for share ownership) that were identified as challenges in the first round of data submitted to the PSC Register. Of course, this is not limited to jurisdictions where it is required to file this information with a central register, and anyone may submit to OpenOwnership. Finally, we include data from other sources. Each record will make it clear where the data came from.

We’re working with a limited amount of data for this early version of the Register. But the more beneficial ownership data is made available to the public, the more we’ll be able to use the Register to spot cross-jurisdictional connections between people and companies.

Why is there data missing? Overall, we have data available from 24 jurisdictions and a wide variety of industries, with a special focus on extractives. However, any gaps that are in the original datasets are also represented on our Register. Some UK companies couldn’t or didn’t identify beneficial owners, or their specific means of control, and there were many well-recognized challenges to collecting high-quality beneficial ownership data in some EITI jurisdictions. It is also worth noting that publicly-listed UK companies were excluded from the PSC Register. We think sometimes these gaps are informative in themselves, though, so we make sure you know when you’re looking at one.

Where can I submit feedback on the Register? Submit feedback at this link. We look forward to hearing from you!

What’s the beneficial ownership data standard? The beneficial ownership data standard will provide a solid conceptual and practical foundation for collecting and publishing beneficial ownership data, addressing identifiers (both of persons and legal entities), timeliness of the data, and ownership thresholds, among other issues. It was developed in cooperation with international experts in the domain and in open data standard-setting on the basis of research into the needs of various users and existing relevant standards.

This standard will be the first ever open data standard for beneficial ownership. It will help governments understand the technical aspects of beneficial ownership data, avoiding the reinventing of the wheel. The more countries adopt it, the more it will enable the data to be published by companies in a way that reduces the cost and effort to using it, compared with multiple different formats.

Who needs linked, transnational beneficial ownership data? A wide range of actors need this data – one reason why making beneficial ownership public is so important. Civil society investigators need to find links between companies and human beings behind them. Government procurement officers need to know which companies bidding for public contracts are linked to politicians, or to other companies that failed to deliver on previous contracts. Tax officers need to be able to trace the flows of corporate profit through various jurisdictions, and law enforcement needs to know where illicit funds end up. Finally, businesses need to know who their partners are, who is in their supply chain, and what they’re investing in.

What will OpenOwnership change? OpenOwnership makes useful data available to people who need it, helping governments and civil society hold corrupt individuals accountable and creating a better environment for ethical business.

In transparent jurisdictions, the availability of the data will act as a deterrent to unethical behavior (it’s no coincidence that the 21 anonymous UK companies involved in the Global Laundromat scheme dissolved just months before the UK’s beneficial ownership register came online).

And the more we shine the light on jurisdictions that remain opaque, rather than accepting opacity as business as usual, the more we make it expensive and difficult for corrupt individuals to hide. That’s why it’s not just important where we do have data, but also where we don’t.

Finally, by providing the option for companies to submit their beneficial ownership voluntarily, OpenOwnership allows corporates to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and play a role in indicating to national governments the business imperative to action on this important issue.

What will motivate businesses to open up their beneficial ownership information? For business, OpenOwnership is a way to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and build trust by providing a place to globally disclosure ownership information.. It also allows companies to better vet prospective partners, clients or suppliers, enhance due diligence and manage risk exposure and investors to protect the value of their longterm holdings and better allocate capital to worthwhile investments.

What incentives do governments have to open up their beneficial ownership data? How will OpenOwnership help? Anonymous shell companies are the main vehicle used to evade billions of dollars in tax revenues. They are also used to move illicit funds – from laundering money for human trafficking and the drug trade to funding terror groups and criminal gangs. Governments have a vested interest in cracking down on this activity by removing the right to own companies anonymously.

Transparent company ownership also creates a better environment for business by increasing competition (ensuring that lucrative government contracts go to the companies best suited for the job), reducing the costs of due diligence, and enabling better allocation of capital by investors.

Public, open data is also better quality data. When data is made accessible to everyone, it increases engagement with the information, which means that there are more people spotting errors and inconsistencies.

OpenOwnership can help governments implementing national registers by integrating our technology with their registers or procurement systems, and by sharing insights from the beneficial ownership data standard. This will ensure that their systems are efficient and cost-effective and avoid recreating the wheel.

What’s next for OpenOwnership? We will develop the beta platform into a transformative world-class tool and integrate it into the wider world. The OpenOwnership Register can serve as a technical solution for countries implementing national registers, and we hope to partner with at least two governments interested in using our technology to underpin their central registers. We also intend to test on-the-ground implementation of the beneficial ownership data standard, for those who may prefer to use their own technology but want their data to be linkable with other beneficial ownership datasets.

The Register is not just a solution for those implementing central national registers. We are looking for partners in government procurement to integrate our system with theirs, as well as corporate partners to integrate our platform with their due diligence systems.

We will continue to engage the private sector in driving a norms change around corporate transparency, such that organisations that keep their ownership secret are subjected to high levels of scrutiny. We’ll also aim to provide data that is highly useful to stakeholders in the public sector, civil society, and private sector.

We also intend to test integration of the register with two national registers, including in at least one developing country, as well as with one national procurement system and two due diligence systems in the private sector. This will be supported by engagement with end users of the data and the provision of a help desk for technical assistance.