Governments, journalists, NGOs, and citizens want peace of mind about business transactions and also want to understand who benefits from them. It’s critical to have as much transparency in those business transactions as possible. That’s the vision that guided OpenCorporates to launch in the UK in 2010, to create a single, unified view of official company registries from around the world.
OpenCorporates—considered to be the world’s leading source of corporate information—and Microsoft ACTS (Advanced Cloud Transparency Services) have entered into a powerful new partnership to help accelerate transparency through mobilizing data and advanced technology. The company gets its information directly from official corporate registers—it doesn’t acquire or deal with third-party data. As of early 2023, the company’s global database provides data on more than 220 million companies.
This data assists corporations, governments, journalists, and others. It allows them to gather and analyze corporate information to trace beneficial ownership, investigate for financial crimes including within public procurement data, discover potential tax havens, and expose other areas of corporate financial operations that need increased transparency and scrutiny.
“We’re making previously disparate data openly available and searchable in one place, not just for those who can afford to access it, but for everyone,” says Rebecca Lee, chief impact officer at OpenCorporates.
“To create a more trusted—and, therefore, productive business environment—you need to be able to easily understand who you’re in business with. Our approach is fundamentally different from the legacy data providers who restrict access with paywalls, add proprietary licences/identifiers, and rely on data gathered from third-party sources without any form of disclosure of from where it was collected or when. Not only does this exclude citizens, NGOs, many businesses, and journalists, it introduces significant data-quality issues—from bias to latency to outright errors—that ultimately affect the utility of the information.”
OpenCorporates is a natural partner for ACTS—to help ensure detailed, searchable, usable data governance and security. By partnering, ACTS enables its customers to access the world’s largest database of corporate information. Then customers can incorporate that database into solutions such as beneficial ownership discovery—which is also supported through OpenCorporates’s integration with Open Ownership, another ACTS partner.
Pictured above: Rebecca Lee, chief impact officer at OpenCorporates.
Data makes an impact
In recent years, OpenCorporates has seen its data used to shine spotlights on many areas of corporate activity.
“The Miami Herald, Bloomberg News, and The [London] Times used our data to identify fraudulent COVID business relief schemes in the UK and the US, leading to arrests and prosecutions,” Lee says.
Other recent events include the 2016 publication of the so-called Panama Papers—and follow-ups such as the Pandora Papers—which revealed data detailing tax havens, shell companies, and beneficial ownership of entities by high-ranking officials in several countries. OpenCorporates provided its database to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published the papers. After the information came to light, countries passed legislation calling for tax haven reform and more transparency in company ownership.
More recently, Lee said, OpenCorporates’s data is being examined to help shine a light on potential corruption and human rights abuses in several regions around the world and to bring transparency to the billions of dollars that finance tropical deforestation. OpenCorporates’s mission is to use corporate data to help address and solve these kinds of societal issues—and more.
The journey ahead
“At the base of the OpenCorporates transparency effort lies reliable information,” Lee says. “Technology needs good data. We know that you can’t have good results, good analysis, and good AI without good data sitting right at the bottom of that. And our data comes from the official source—but improved—being analysed, standardized, combined, and curated.”
OpenCorporates sees itself as being part of the global transparency ecosystem alongside ACTS. “Our mission is to deliver genuine transparency for the benefit of business and society,” says Lee. “And Microsoft ACTS’s mission and our mission align really well.”