Features of a good quality beneficial ownership declaration form
Well-designed forms make it as easy as possible for the people completing them to provide accurate and unambiguous information. This reduces the number of accidental errors. Submitting more accurate information becomes easier, while disguising deliberately false information as mistakes becomes harder.
Declaration forms that are robust and well-designed will generally meet all of the following criteria:
- it is clear who (people as well as companies) will fall under the scope of the disclosure process (it may be necessary to provide detailed guidance alongside the form and referenced from the form in order to achieve this);
- the form is easy to understand and navigate;
- it is easy for people to supply good quality data for each field;
- it is easy for companies with very simple BO structures to make their declarations;
- the full range of BO structures, declarable by law, can be disclosed via the form(s);
- form submissions can be linked to data in other official databases, so that companies do not have to submit the same information multiple times.
Testing the form with a representative sample of companies will assist with further refining of the document to improve usability, clarity and completeness. It is also advisable to involve state agencies that are potential users of BO information when reviewing tests of the form.
At the design stage, the features that will help people complete forms are:
- offering definitions of terminology at the point where they are needed;
- either hiding sections of forms that are not applicable, or providing clear signposting (for example: “If you answered ‘yes’ go to section C”);
- using plain language;
- providing examples where it will aid understanding;
- being clear about the format in which answers are expected (for example: “Provide dates in DD/MM/YYYY format”);
- providing selection lists rather than free-text entry where relevant (for example, when asking for the country of registration of non-domestic entities);
- stating clearly which fields are required and which are optional;
- stating which information is for internal use only and will not be openly published.
There are also some specific considerations regarding BO forms. Under some circumstances, companies seeking to comply with the disclosure requirements may find it difficult to uncover the information required of them. In these cases, and where the law allows for it, forms should provide a way for companies and individuals to declare that they have tried and failed to collect the required information. For instance, in the example form, a beneficial owner whose details are unknown can be flagged as an “unknown person” (see the “4(e) Beneficial owner” sheet, part (i)). These various good practices have all been incorporated into OO’s Example Beneficial Ownership Declaration Form.
In addition, the form should be designed, or customised, to minimise the collection of information that companies have already submitted to other state or regional systems.