Announcing Who Controls It: a proof-of-concept beneficial ownership register

Beneficial Ownership is a terrible expression. Outside of the NGO and anti-money-laundering community, nobody knows what it means, or why it’s important. In fact the UK now refers to this information as Persons of Significant Control, which is another bit of jargon, but does a slightly better job of explaining what we mean – which is to be able to answer the central question about any company that you are thinking of doing business with/working for/regulating: who or what is controlling it.

That’s why when we (OpenCorporates) were thinking of what to call a prototype register for this data, we rapidly focused on the simple phrase Who Controls It. It’s short, snappy and accurately defines the purpose in a simple easy-to-use phrase.

Solving this, however, is anything but simple. As anyone who’s actually dealt with this issue on the ground knows, the mechanism of control are many and varied. While the vast majority of companies are still the single simple company with a few individual shareholders or members (often the same people as the directors too), large corporations and structures used for money laundering and criminal enterprises are tortuous in their complexity.

And while we would love it if this were a simple thing to capture, to model and to display, the truth is that it’s not. And getting this right will be a matter of trial and error; iterations towards something that if not easy is, at least, not too painful.

So this prototype register is just that, a first go at solving this problem. We don’t believe we’ve got it right yet, but do think these first iterations will be useful steps along the way. They also show governments thinking of doing this that there’s potentially a better way, instead of others implying this so that the data is not captured, or worse, they decide that it’s all just Too Difficult.

It’s open source, builds on OpenCorporates‘ unrivalled dataset of companies (over 80 million in 100+ jurisdictions), and we invite UI wizards, crack coders, and documentation writers to contribute to make this better. This is very much an early prototype. With your help we can make it really rock.

If you would like to contribute as a coder – join the Git repo here. If you would like to help in some other way, we would love to hear from you on

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