Dark Money Conference keynote highlights: Joining the data dots

Our Chief Impact Officer, Rebecca Lee, recently presented a keynote presentation at the Dark Money Conference 2021 on how our efforts to collect and join the dots in company data help the anti-financial crime community.

In this blog post, we share the key highlights from her keynote, and shed light on some of the key initiatives that can help open up even more company data around the world – for the benefit of all.

This piece, along with contributions from other speakers from the conference, can be found in a report published by FScom, the event organisers, entitled The Future of Financial Crime: Voices From the Dark Money Conference.

Global efforts to fight financial crime are becoming more challenging and it is increasingly difficult to know who we are in business with. We need to keep pace with an explosion in the number of companies that are being created, changes to their officers and ownership, and the use of complex, global corporate structures.

The future need not be so bleak if governments open up access to company data. Making company data truly open and transparent for businesses, journalists and wider society transforms the fight against financial crime.

Why? Because this transparency makes it possible to join the data dots between who legal entities are and who they are connected to around the world.

Company data: the critical foundation

Obtaining accurate data on companies is critical to financial crime investigations. All of us in the anti-financial crime community know that complex international webs of legal entities help to facilitate illicit money flows and obscure the ownership of assets.

It’s more difficult to lie or cover your traces when official legal entity data is available to all, updated frequently and includes who controls and who benefits from it. But access to official company registers is often restricted. When this data is locked away in silos, it undermines the fundamental purpose of a register.

In today’s global world, we need company data at scale. It must be available when, how and where it is needed – and that global view should be available to everyone.

That’s where we come in.

OpenCorporates: collecting and joining the data dots

Making company data open and transparent is at the heart of OpenCorporates’ mission. We have made data on over 200 million companies and 270 million officers from 140 individual company registers open, structured, transparent, provenanced to the official source and available to all openly on OpenCorporates.com

This allows everyone to join the dots between legal entities, individuals and addresses. Crucially it is searchable across jurisdictions.

Thousands of journalists, investigators and regulators use our data to directly identify criminal and illicit activity in the commercial and public arenas. OpenCorporates’ data has powered investigations into money laundering, bribery and corruption, modern slavery, deforestation and more. 

Our call to action: open up company registries

We need all company registries to provide their data openly – for everyone. That means the primary official sources should provide data at scale in standardised, machine-readable formats so it can power compliance processes and analytics tools. It’s use can’t be restricted – as by cross-referencing data we can identify inconsistencies, data quality problems and indicators of financial crime.

There are promising efforts to do this, but they need to go further and faster:

  • US Corporate Transparency Act: collects beneficial ownership information on companies but it is not openly available to the public.

  • EU’s Open Data and the Reuse of Public Sector Information Directive: plans to open up company and company ownership data, but the implementation has stalled and is likely to recommend the “lower” of two options.

  • Companies House reform: will allow them to verify and challenge, in order to become a more authoritative record. But it’s not on the legislative calendar yet.

  • 5AMLD: required registers of Ultimate Beneficial Ownership to be made publicly available, but many countries have not delivered.

We need to put pressure on governments to raise the level, quality and access to company data for everyone. It will not just benefit our jobs and our employers, but us as individuals and wider society.

We are all affected by fraud, money laundering and criminal behaviour which is funded by illicit finance. Making company data open and transparent is the critical foundation for successful anti-financial crime processes and technologies to build upon. 

Use your voice: such as by responding to the upcoming public consultation for the EU Open Data and PSI Directive.

We can make a difference!

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