Complying with Beneficial Ownership Reporting Rules Under the Corporate Transparency Act
Starting January 1, 2024, entities must comply with the reporting rules under the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA).
The CTA applies both to U.S. entities and foreign entities doing business in the United States, and it is likely to have significant implications for domestic and foreign businesses as it imposes new reporting burdens on such entities, requiring a fact-specific analysis for each entity’s unique circumstances. Information sharing of CTA information will also open the door to expanded risks to businesses from government enforcement and investigations, which merits serious consideration by affected businesses of new internal reviews to consider potential disclosure issues.
Implemented to combat the use of shell corporations and other entities to enable money laundering and other illicit activities, the CTA requires domestic and foreign “Reporting Companies” to report certain identifying information about their beneficial owners to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). FinCEN estimates 32.6 million Reporting Companies will be subject to these reporting rules when they go into effect. An additional 5 million entities will become Reporting Companies each year after that.
Whether the reporting regime applies is determined entity-by-entity. For Reporting Companies now in existence, beneficial owner information (BOI) must be provided to FinCEN before January 1, 2025. Reporting Companies formed or registered on or after January 1, 2024, must report within 30 days of the acceptance of the company’s formation or registration filing. Similarly, a change in beneficial ownership or exemption status would also need to be reported within 30 days of such change. Reporting Companies should consider their processes for gathering, reporting, and safeguarding BOI to be reported to FinCEN.
Who is Subject to Reporting? Definition of a “Reporting Company”
A “Reporting Company” is a domestic or foreign corporation, limited liability company, or similar entity that was either formed or registered to do business in any state or jurisdiction by filing a document with a secretary of state or other similar office and which does not qualify for an exemption.
There are 23 types of entities that are exempt from the reporting requirements. Most exemptions apply to entities already subject to substantial federal reporting requirements, such as public companies, banks, securities brokers and dealers, insurance companies, registered investment companies and advisors, and pooled investment companies, among others. Also exempt are “large operating companies” (defined as a company with more than 20 full-time employees, an operating presence in a physical office within the United States, and a filed Federal income tax or information return in the United States for the previous year demonstrating more than US$5 million in gross receipts or sales from U.S. sources), tax-exempt entities, wholly owned subsidiaries of certain exempt entities, and inactive entities. 6
Although applying these rules may be straightforward in many cases, tiered entity structures will complicate determining how the rules apply and what BOI, if any, must be reported for each entity. In addition, ongoing compliance may be complex as changes at upper-tier entities may have implications for lower-tier entities. For example, a change in upstream ownership may cause an exemption to no longer apply, triggering subsidiary reporting requirements.
Identifying Beneficial Owners
For reporting purposes, a beneficial owner is any individual who, directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship, or otherwise, either exercises substantial control over the reporting company or owns or controls at least 25% of the ownership interests of the reporting company. A Reporting Company will always have at least one owner with substantial control and possibly several owners with such control, even if no individual holds a 25% ownership interest.
Exercising Substantial Control
Substantial control generally means control over important decisions of the Reporting Company. Under the regulations, an individual exercises substantial control over a Reporting Company if the individual:
Serves as a senior officer of the Reporting Company, defined as a CEO, CFO, COO, and general counsel, or any other officer who performs a similar function (the roles of secretary and treasurer are excluded because their functions are viewed as ministerial, with little control over the company); Has authority over the appointment or removal of any senior officer or a majority of the board of directors; directs, determines, or has substantial influence over important decisions made by the Reporting Company (such decisions include those addressing the nature, scope, and attributes of the business, including the sale, lease, mortgage, or other transfer of any principal assets of the Reporting Company; the reorganization, dissolution, or merger of the Reporting Company; and major expenditures or investments, issuances of any equity, the incurrence of any significant debt, or approval of the operating budget of the Reporting Company among others); or has any other form of substantial control over the Reporting Company.
Owns or Controls Ownership Interests
An ownership interest for determining beneficial ownership under the CTA is defined broadly and considers various arrangements and ownership interests. In addition to stock and other equity, capital, and profits interests, put, call, and straddles may also be considered, as well as debt instruments with equity-like features, in determining whether the 25% threshold is met. For these purposes, the total ownership interests that an individual owns or controls, directly or indirectly, is calculated as a percentage of the total outstanding ownership interests of the Reporting Company and assumes all options are exercised.
For Reporting Companies that issue capital or profit interests, an individual’s ownership interests are the capital and profit interests in the entity, calculated as a percentage of the total outstanding capital and profit interests in such entity. For Reporting Companies that issue shares of stock, the threshold is measured as a percentage of the greater of either the total voting power of all ownership interests entitled to vote or the total outstanding value of all ownership interests. However, if the percentage of an ownership interest cannot be determined with “reasonable certainty” using this method, any individual owning or controlling 25% of any class or type of ownership interest of a Reporting Company will be deemed to own or control 25% of all ownership interests in the Reporting Company.
There are five exceptions for when an individual who otherwise would be a beneficial owner of a Reporting Company is exempt: (i) a minor child if the Reporting Company provides information about a parent or legal guardian; (ii) an individual acting as a nominee, intermediary, custodian, or agent on behalf of another individual; (iii) an employee, acting solely as an employee, whose substantial control over or economic benefits from such entity are derived solely from the employment status of the employee and who is not a senior officer; (iv) an individual whose only interest is a future interest through a right of inheritance; and (v) a creditor.
Identifying Company Applicant
A “Company Applicant” is the individual who directly files the document that creates the Reporting Company or registers the company to do business in the United States and the individual who is primarily responsible for directing or controlling such filing. There can be more than one Company Applicant.
Information to be Reported
The Reporting Company will be required to provide identification information about itself, its beneficial owners, and Company Applicants. Information required about the Reporting Company itself includes:
The full legal name and any trade name or “doing business as” name of the Reporting Company;
A complete current address;
The State, Tribal, or foreign jurisdiction of formation or registration of the Reporting Company; and
The IRS Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) (including an Employer Identification Number) of the Reporting Company.
For each beneficial owner and Company Applicant, the applicable Reporting Company must submit to FinCEN the individual’s full legal name, date of birth, complete current address (in the case of a Company Applicant, a business address may be used, in all other cases a residential address must be used), and a unique identifying number from an acceptable identification document, as well as copies of such documents. Instead of acceptable identification documentation, an individual or company who must provide information to a Reporting Company may provide a unique identifier assigned by FinCEN (FinCEN Identifier). FinCEN will store BOI for no fewer than five years after the date on which the Reporting Company terminates.
A FinCEN Identifier is a unique number issued by FinCEN to an individual or entity upon request that can be used instead of BOI for reporting purposes. Using a FinCEN Identifier puts the burden of updating the applicable BOI on the applicable individual or Reporting Company, as each FinCEN Identifier is specific to the individual or Reporting Company. The applicable individual or Reporting Company must file an updated application reflecting the change within 30 calendar days after the date (i) a change occurs or (ii) the individual or Reporting Company becomes aware or has reason to know of the inaccuracy in the application.
Under the proposed rules, an individual may apply for a FinCEN Identifier that contains all of the BOI that otherwise has to be outlined in the initial report about that individual. A Reporting Company may obtain a FinCEN Identifier by submitting an application to FinCEN only at or after the entity submits an initial report.
Access to BOI
BOI will be provided upon request by a federal agency engaged in national security, intelligence, or law enforcement activity and to a State, local, or Tribal law enforcement agency if a court of competent jurisdiction has authorized the law enforcement agency to seek the information in a criminal or civil investigation. With the consent of the Reporting Company, a financial institution can obtain BOI to facilitate compliance with customer due diligence requirements of a financial institution. Congress has directed the Treasury to maintain BOI in a “secure nonpublic database, using information security methods and techniques that are appropriate to protect non-classified information security systems at the highest security level.” FinCEN has been developing the Beneficial Ownership Secure System (BOSS) to receive, store, and maintain BOI to comply with this requirement. BOSS is expected to open on January 1, 2024, and Reporting Companies will provide the required BOI to FinCEN through BOSS.
Failure to meet the reporting requirements or unauthorized disclosure of BOI can result in civil or criminal actions. Willful failure to file a complete initial or updated report with FinCEN is subject to a $500-per-day fine (up to $10,000) and imprisonment for up to two years. An individual who knowingly discloses BOI without authorization is subject to a $500-per-day penalty (up to $250,000) and up to five years imprisonment.
For entities to be able to comply with CTA requirements, there will need to be processes in place to gather, store, and report BOI. Operating agreements, subscription agreements, and similar documents will likely need to be revised to require that BOI is provided and updated immediately upon any change by beneficial owners and authorizing the Reporting Company to share such information with FinCEN. Moreover, consequences for failure to comply with requirements to provided BOI must be considered as the Reporting Company will be responsible for any penalties for a failure to comply.
Another consideration entities should have in mind as they gather information to report BOI is that they should be attentive to new information that may inform their compliance with other regulatory regimes, such as the Treasury Department’s enforcement of sanctions through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which involves not only persons listed on the Specially Designated National (SDN) list but also in some instances entities owned 50% or more by an SDN or blocked person.
The application of the CTA continues to evolve, and there are several Congressional proposals to delay or modify implementation.
The Federal Government is not unique in wanting more transparency concerning beneficial owners of entities operating within its borders. Some states and several non-US jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, have or have proposed similar laws requiring more corporate transparency.