Prospect Research with Open Data: Discovering OpenCorporates
Data drives prospect research — from real estate ownership and compensation estimates to recent donations to a nonprofit — and prospect researchers are always looking for new and interesting sources of that data. I’m most excited when I find a data source that:
- Is comprehensive
- Provides actionable information
- Is easy to interface with
- Fits in the budget
There’s one resource that fits all four categories: OpenCorporates.
OpenCorporates is “the largest open database of companies in the world,” or a global database of public records focused on corporate entities/business registrations and affiliated individuals. The information includes company names, directors/officers, registered addresses, subsidiaries and more. (A quick note: While the entities in the database might be corporations, LLCs or other forms of companies, the term “company” will be used as a catchall.)
This information is trustworthy for researchers, as it comes directly from 140+ company registries around the world. Some examples are the UK Companies House, state registries in the U.S. (e.g. Nevada Secretary of State) and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs – Company/LLC Master Data from India. You can find a full list at opencorporates.com/registers. All data is from primary public sources, with no third-party data mixed in — and OpenCorporates is solid regarding transparency, with links to the original source readily available.
Journalists, governments and other organizations are already using OpenCorporates in a variety of ways:
- The Miami Herald and the Anti-Corruption Data Collective used OpenCorporates data to help expose misuse of the United States’ Paycheck Protection Program in a joint investigation.
- The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists compared information from the “Panama Papers” against data available through OpenCorporates as part of their investigation into offshore wealth havens.
- The EU sourced data in studying public procurement.
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development uses the information to analyze multinational entities.
So, what can prospect researchers do with OpenCorporates? It turns out, quite a bit.
Let’s start with an example in real estate: you’re trying to figure out the capacity of a prospect and you know the address for their home but cannot confirm the ownership. Even when you dig into the local assessor’s data the owner is listed as some LLC. So you open up OpenCorporates, search for that company and limit the search to the jurisdiction (i.e. state or country) the property is in. This can help you find registration documents for that LLC with the name of your prospect!
This could have easily been done on the state or country’s business registry website. However, there are a few advantages that OpenCorporates provides. The two main advantages are:
- OpenCorporates is easy to use as a one-stop-shop, meaning you don’t need to keep a favorites folder of all the business registry websites you’ve ever used
- Once you’ve looked up the LLC, you can click through the names listed as directors/officers/agents and search for additional companies that might be tied to your prospect. This may lead you to find additional properties owned by your prospects, by matching names and addresses on business registrations to the information you have.
OpenCorporates can also help you understand family ties. Sometimes when you find the registration information for your prospect’s company, other names can pop up. This might be a lawyer or accountant who helped set up the company, but it could also include other family members or business associates.
Suddenly, you have a better understanding of how shared family property is owned, or even when different family members were added or removed from the company, based on the timeline of company events. This can be particularly helpful when evaluating prospects that are amid a generational wealth transfer.
Occasionally you might find that your prospect is involved in many properties and many companies that own these properties. In this case, you might have someone involved in real estate investment. As a reminder, company registration data should always be taken with a grain of salt, because you only see the publicly available information. Registration data is only as good as what is entered, and ways exist to obfuscate true ownership (e.g., only having lawyers’ names appear on the registration). You can make some conclusions, such as someone tied to multiple, similar properties in a single city likely being a property owner, but you may not know for certain.
Other times as you’re searching and come across new companies with your prospect named in the registration, it might not be real estate, but instead a family business, investment partnership or board seat on a large company. For example, when a parent is a partner in their child’s business venture, both of their names might appear in the data. In another case, investment partners might use a company to collectively hold assets or make investments. The company registration data provided in OpenCorporates could help you identify more of the people involved.
Even if the companies in question are huge, OpenCorporates can still help you understand them and your prospects better. Using the director’s/officer’s information in OpenCorporates, you can garner insight into which subsidiaries your prospect might be involved with. If the only information you have is that they are a president at a company, but they aren’t the CEO, the registry data might point you in the direction of which part of the company they are running.
Have you ever had trouble figuring out how many different subsidiaries a big company has or what its international affiliates are? Are you doing due diligence work on a corporation and unsure of all the connections you need to check? The company data helps map this out in a transparent way.
Consider a well-known conglomerate like Berkshire Hathaway. It might be pretty tricky to figure out all the companies tied to Berkshire from just news articles, SEC filings or the company website, but the OpenCorporates record for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. includes the list of 3,221 subsidiaries — whether they are companies registered in Delaware or South Africa.
There is a wealth of information available in OpenCorporates, and there is even the option to explore it en masse. The straightforward user interface of the website makes searching a breeze, but if your project needs the raw data on a large scale, there is an API option for you.
This resource is exciting for me because it really does check all the boxes. OpenCorporates is comprehensive on a global scale with up-to-date information. The data is directly tied to individuals and companies, not the output of a black box algorithm. It provides a straightforward and user-friendly interface and has an API available if needed for large scale projects. Best of all, it’s free to get started, fitting in everyone’s budgets. OpenCorporates is great tool prospect development professionals can use to enhance understanding of their prospects. Give it a try!
Do you have a favorite open data source (or a tool you feel strongly about)? Share it with the Apra community by writing a review; reach out to the Apra Connections Editorial Advisory Committee or email me at email@example.com!