New support for UK Overseas Territories to publish beneficial ownership data

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Open Ownership · Nov 2020

In recent months, nine of the UK Overseas Territories (OTs) have announced their intention to build publicly accessible registers of beneficial owners for companies registered in their territories. Open Ownership (OO) will be working with the OTs as they enact their beneficial ownership (BO) commitments, by variously helping to analyse their specific needs and how these can be met, advising on technical systems and on BO data publication.

These public announcements have followed the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act that obliged the UK to provide “all reasonable assistance” to the OTs to establish public registers. This same UK law – passed after opaque structures in some of the OTs were linked to the Panama Papers and other scandals – also required the territories to introduce registers by the end of 2020 (a deadline later extended to 2023).

The challenges associated with implementation will vary significantly across these jurisdictions. Whilst some territories will create registers from scratch, others will concentrate their reforms on updating and publishing the BO data from registers that authorities already hold.

The Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands will need fairly sophisticated disclosure systems and registers to deal with their international banking sector and the more than 100,000 companies registered. Montserrat and the Falkland Islands, by contrast, could potentially use simpler systems to handle the BO data from the 200-300 entities registered in their territories.

Implementation support

OO is developing a series of implementation tools and best practice guides that will support the territories as they seek to create their BO registers. Under this new programme, OO will be providing technical assistance to the OTs, which will help address both their policy and legal needs as well as their technological and data needs related to the collection and publication of high quality BO data.

In addition to the creation of an enhanced helpdesk support facility available for specific implementation questions from the OTs, OO is also producing a range of materials that highlight good practice methodologies from international experiences, and will suggest how these might be best applied in the OTs’ specific political and legal context.

Our planned outputs will include “how-to” briefing materials for implementers to establish a pathway through the various complexities of the reform process, and to decide on the correct scope and nature of reforms that are most likely to be appropriate for the OTs. This new guide will cover regulatory reforms, systems design, data storage and structuring, and publication of the first BO disclosures. It will also include expert legal guidance on how the territories can publish BO data whilst remaining compliant with local privacy and data protection laws.

For the smaller territories that have relatively few seats in their legislatures, these materials will be accompanied by a guide to help effective scrutiny of BO legislation. This output will enable the OTs’ legislators, civil society organisations (CSOs), and the broader public to engage in the debate over key policy considerations on governing the implementation process and understand the likely effects of policy decisions on eventual data output and impact.

A final component of this programme will look at providing resources to support OTs to collect and publish BO information – especially in small jurisdictions with small numbers of registered companies. These products will include sample “data processing pipelines” that can be used by territories that are not financial centres to enable the publishing of standardised, usable BO data once it has been collected. In addition, where possible, general advice around data collection will be provided.

This programme of support will run, in the first instance, to March 2021. Territories interested in accessing the implementation assistance available under this new UK government-funded programme are invited to contact Country Manager, Peter Low (peter@openownership.org).

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beneficial ownership