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Mar 15, 2023

How to Find Out Who Owns a Business for Compliance

Teddy Butz
Marketing

In brief:

  • Owners of LLCs are called “members” - People who run the everyday operations are called “managers”; they may be members, or they may be non-members elected by members. Both members and managers may have different official job titles.
  • Businesses need to know the owners of other businesses for the sake of anti-money laundering regulations, like “know your business” (KYB) and “know your customer” (KYC). This promotes transparency in B2B relationships – especially through sometimes-opaque corporate structures – to eliminate illegal or overly-risky transactions.
  • LLC owner names can sometimes be found by checking government registries, either online or by submitting formal public information requests. They may also appear on the company’s website or in other public records. The most efficient way to find them is to rely on a dedicated KYB + KYC solution like Middesk and Socure.

Complying with worldwide financial regulations such as PEP or sanctions lists, means knowing exactly who your business is dealing with worldwide. That includes not just other businesses and the risks involved in dealing with them; it also involves the people in control of those businesses and whether negotiations with them deserve any special caution.

Unfortunately, finding out who actually owns a business isn’t always a simple or efficient process. Beyond your local mom and pops, larger companies have more complex structures, and with something like an LLC, it’s often difficult to know who actually owns the business.

Some companies install non-owners in management positions to handle daily affairs, and many owners will be referred to as other titles that are more in line with their roles at their companies (for example, a CTO). So this piece will offer some advice for how to find out who owns a business, including:  

The first step in how to find who owns a business is to know what they’re called.

What is the owner of an LLC called & how can you find them?

Owners of LLCs are officially called “members”. Sometimes, members handle an company's daily operations themselves. Other times, they will elect one or more people to run the company on their behalf. These people are called “managers”, and they may or may not be members themselves.

Note that the terms “member”, “manager”, and “owner” aren’t always that informative when it comes to describing what someone does at a company. So these people often choose alternative titles to better represent their role within an LLC. Some common ones include:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • President
  • Principal
  • Managing Director
  • Creative Director
  • Technical Director
Org chart example

To have a thorough understanding of the names of these people, you’ll need to check several different places. Official government websites often have registries of businesses in a country or territory. These can often be searched online, or else they will direct you how to request to find out the information you need. Sometimes a company’s website will list the owners, or have their names in a staff directory. Other times, you’ll have to look in alternative public records or specialized corporate databases.

As for why you need to know how to see who owns a business, a big reason is business regulations compliance. We’ll explain more in the next section.

When do you need to know the names of who owns a business?

Knowing who owns a business is a key part of complying with anti-money laundering regulations, especially “Know Your Business” (KYB) and “Know Your Customer” (KYC) identity verification rules. Some reasons for this are:

  • Client authenticity and transparency – An essential part of preventing financial crime is ensuring identity credentials correspond to a natural person, as well as match the actual person involved in a transaction.
  • Piercing opaque corporate structures – Some companies have complex management hierarchies that involve people with titles such as “nominee directors”, “corporate directors”, or “bearer shareholders”. This can make it difficult to tell who actually owns a company, which may be done intentionally to make financial crime harder to trace.
  • Screening high-risk individuals – Some company owners may be from countries on financial sanctions lists, or may appear on these lists themselves. Other companies prospecting to do business with them need to know this information to be aware of who is risky – or even illegal – to deal with.

5 methods for how to find out who owns a business

For regulatory reasons, LLCs are required to reveal who owns them – whether they participate in day-to-day business administration or not. This information isn’t always straightforward to get, though. It can take a significant amount of time – and sometimes money – to request it from government agencies, or to search other public records. And companies can sometimes use confusing titles and leadership structures to make it difficult to tell the difference between who owns them and who simply manages them.

Available options may differ by region, but here are some options for how to look up who owns a business.

1. Consult a specialized corporate database like Middesk

Costs: $6-10 (based on volume)
Time Investment
: Less than 60 seconds
How Strongly This Supports Compliance: Extremely Strongly

Your best bet is to employ a dedicated, all-in-one CDD solution like Middesk. Middesk instantly delivers results from many different sources such as tax records, state registries, websites, sanctions lists, USPS, legal filings, and more to get the information you need on an LLC. That not only includes ultimate beneficial ownership, but also if the business is in a restricted industry, in legal trouble, or on a sanctions list. Middesk results are delivered by API, so the results can be actioned off of automatically, or in an easy-to-use dashboard to accelerate manual reviews. 

In addition to the time it saves, Middesk can also save you thousands in fees that may result from requesting information from government agencies. 

2. Check government registers

Costs: Up to $5 per request
Time Investment
: 10-15 minutes; it’s online, but may require some deeper digging
How Strongly This Supports Compliance: Strongly

In the US, all LLCs must register with the state in which they will operate. So checking state government websites – commonly the secretary of state office in each state – will usually yield a searchable database of licensed business filings. Not all filings will necessarily list an LLC’s owners, however. Some searches may also cost money.

3. Submit a public information request

Costs: $3-$5 per request
Time Investment
: A few days to a few weeks, perhaps longer if submitting by traditional mail
How Strongly This Supports Compliance: Fairly Strongly

If you can’t find an LLC’s owners’ names in an online database, you may be able to get this information by submitting a public information request. Again, a government website (such as for a secretary of state’s office in the US) should have instructions on how to do this. You may also be able to do this by visiting a local government office in the city where the LLC does business.

This is a fairly reliable method, but it can take time depending on how the request is filed. It likely also will cost a bit of money. 

4. Look through alternative public records

Costs: Free
Time Investment
: Minutes to hours; depends on how many options are necessary to explore
How Strongly This Supports Compliance:
Not Very Strongly

There are other places where you may be able to find information on an LLC’s owners. For instance, you may be able to find the owners through:

  • Vehicles registered to the LLC through a vehicle registration organization
  • Personal property tax databases
  • License to operate in a regulated industry (e.g. healthcare, insurance, banking)
  • The financial institution the LLC does business with

These are all rather indirect options that should be used when a direct approach doesn’t work. So it may take you a while to go through a bunch of them before you turn up any relevant information, if anything at all.

5. Call or email the business, or visit its website

Costs: Free
Time Investment
: 5-10 minutes; phone call or email may take longer
How Strongly This Supports Compliance:
Very Weakly

Many companies have “About Us” pages on their websites that list their executive staff. Sometimes they will also have a staff directory that you can search. Note, however, that these people may be simply managers and may not be the true owners of the company.

You can also call or email the business directly and see if you can get the owners’ names that way. However, it can be time-consuming to get in touch with a person who knows this information. And even then, they may not be willing or able to give it to you, and this information won’t be ‘official’ enough to comply with any regulations requiring knowledge of business ownership.

How to look up who owns a business: by region

The following are official government websites for how to determine who owns a business in the US, Canada, and the EU member states. Some allow for searching the whole country, while others narrow down by jurisdiction. It may also cost money to make requests for some oy state

The United States: by state

State

Best Business Ownership Lookup Method

Alabama

Secretary of State Business Entity Records

Alaska

Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing

Arizona

Corporation Commission Entity Search

Arkansas

Secretary of State Business Entity Search

California

Secretary of State Business Search

Colorado

Secretary of State Business Database Search

Connecticut

State Business Records Search

Delaware

Department of State – Division of Corporations

D.C.

Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection – Scout

Florida

Division of Corporations Records Search

Georgia

Corporations Division Business Search

Hawaii

Business Registration Division – Hawaii Business Express

Idaho

Secretary of State’s Office Business Search

Illinois

Secretary of State – Department of Business Services Database

Indiana

INBiz Business Search

Iowa

Secretary of State Business Entities Search

Kansas

Secretary of State Business Entity Search Station (BESS)

Kentucky

Secretary of State Business Entity Search

Louisiana

Secretary of State Business Filings Search

Maine

Bureau of Corporations, Elections, and Commissions – Corporate Name Search

Maryland

Business Express Business Entity Search

Massachusetts

Corporations Division Business Entity Search

Michigan

Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs – Corporations Online Filing System

Minnesota

Secretary of State – Search Business and Liens Filings

Mississippi

Secretary of State Business Services – Business Search

Missouri

Online Business Filing – Search for a Business Entity

Montana

Secretary of State Business Search

Nebraska

Secretary of State Corporate and Business Search

Nevada

Secretary of State SilverFlume Business Search

New Hampshire

Department of State Business Search

New Jersey

Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services – Business Records Service

New Mexico

Corporations Division Business Search

New York

Division of Corporations – Corporation and Business Entity Database

North Carolina

Business Registration Division Search

North Dakota

Secretary of State Business Search

Ohio

Secretary of State Business Search

Oklahoma

Business Filing Department – Business Entities Search

Oregon

Corporation Division Business Registry Database

Pennsylvania

Department of State Business Entity Search

Puerto Rico

Registry of Corporations and Entities – Corporations Search

Rhode Island

Department of State Business Services Division

South Carolina

Business Entities Online – Business Name Search

South Dakota

Business Services Online – Business Information Search

Tennessee

Business Services Online – Business Information Search

Texas

Comptroller of Public Accounts Taxable Entity Search

Utah

Division of Corporations and Commercial Code Business Search

Vermont

Corporations Division Business Search

Virgin Islands

Division of Corporations and Trademarks – Register Entity Search

Virginia

State Corporation Commission – Clerk’s Information System

Washington

Corporations and Charities Filing System Business Search

West Virginia

Secretary of State Business Entity Search

Wisconsin

Department of Financial Institutions Corporate Records Search

Wyoming

Secretary of State Business Center Search

All States

Securities and Exchange Commission – EDGAR

Canada: by province/territory

European Union: by country

As you can see, there are many different databases you may have to query if you have multiple partners in different jurisdictions. And some may charge fees each time you request information from them.

On the other hand, Middesk can automatically check any of the U.S.-based databases required for compliance – and many other public records – for beneficial ownership information. This can not only save you the fees of repeatedly querying public databases, but also drastically cut the time needed for KYB and KYC identity verification checks before you onboard a new client business.

Talk to our sales team to see how much more efficient Middesk can make your KYB & compliance process.

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