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Beneficial ownership transparency: International approaches and views from the accounting profession

Beneficial ownership information is considered a key factor in fighting money laundering and other financial crimes. Learn how various models for beneficial ownership transparency are reflecting an evolving landscape, as viewed by professional accountants internationally.

The scale of financial crimes is enormous and is strongly connected to criminal activity that damages human wellbeing and harms economies and societies throughout the world. Uncovering and fighting illicit financial flows requires information, including who owns, controls or ultimately benefits from any business involved in potentially illegal activities: namely, the beneficial owners.

Timely access to accurate beneficial ownership information plays a critical role for law enforcement and other authorities in identifying, preventing and prosecuting money laundering, terrorist financing, and tax evasion, among other financial crimes. For financial institutions and other professional services providers, such as lawyers and accountants, access to timely and accurate beneficial ownership information provides a valuable resource for conducting initial and ongoing customer due diligence. 

International standards for anti-money laundering establish a framework for transparency of beneficial ownership information. Jurisdictions around the world are examining the extent to which, how, and by whom, beneficial ownership information is collected, centralized, reviewed and published, consistent with the global framework. In recent years, several countries have established centralized beneficial ownership registries, with varying degrees of access by the public.

As policymakers continue to consider these beneficial ownership transparency developments at the global and national levels, a joint report by CPA Canada and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) seeks to ground the discussion with evidence-based and practical perspectives, including those of professional accountants who are engaged with beneficial ownership information.

The report reflects how existing and new models for registries are meeting international standards and reflecting the evolving landscape. The research, including the views of accountants in several countries, is intended to inform the discussions in many jurisdictions as they assess effective approaches to the transparency of beneficial ownership information.

As a leader in the global accounting community, CPA Canada is a committed partner in the fight against financial crime and with our strong public interest mandate, we will continue to demonstrate how the profession, working alongside government, law enforcement and other stakeholders, can best work to combat money laundering and other financial crimes.