Federal Corporate Transparency Act – “A Call to Action”

March 6, 2024 | by Shahzad Qadri, Partner at Wong Fleming

The landscape of American business has undergone a significant shift with the implementation of the Federal Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which took effect on January 1, 2024. Prior to the passage of the CTA, it was often an arduous and sometimes impossible task to identify the true owners of a company, especially those companies that had complex and multi-layered structures.  Such complex corporate structures promoted the anonymity of its true owners, shrouding their identity in secrecy.  Proponents of the CTA argued that this shroud of secrecy not only made it easier, but in fact facilitated illegal enterprises such as money laundering, terrorist financing, and tax evasion.

This bipartisan legislation aims to combat financial crime by requiring certain companies to disclose information about their beneficial owners: the individuals who ultimately own or control them.  The CTA is broadly applied to a wide range of entities. Corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and any other legal entity formed under state law after January 1, 2024, with at least one employee or $5 million in gross receipts in the United States are required to file the initial report within 30 days of formation or registration in the United States. This requirement extends to those foreign entities registered to do business in the United States with a physical presence and at least one employee or $5 million in gross receipts in the United States.  Any changes and updates are to be reported within 30 days.  Companies formed prior to January 1, 2024 must file the report by January 1, 2025.

At its core, the CTA requires certain companies to disclose information about their “beneficial owners,” individuals or entities with significant control or ownership over the business. The CTA defines “beneficial owners” as anyone who owns or controls, directly or indirectly, 25% or more of all ownership interest in the company.   Additionally, the company is required to provide details that include the beneficial owners’ name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number and ownership interest.  This information is then stored in a secure database, accessible to law enforcement agencies.  Part of the goal of the CTA is to build greater trust in the financial system by the public at large. Proponents of the legislation argue that knowing who controls the companies they interact with empowers consumers and investors to make informed decisions.

However, the sheer breadth and novelty of the statute presents a significant hurdle to compliance. Millions of businesses fall under the CTA’s umbrella, and navigating its reporting requirements can be complex. One major concern is the potential burden placed on businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The reporting requirements may prove to be confusing and time-consuming, raising compliance costs for businesses already struggling with economic uncertainty.

Striking the right balance between transparency and privacy is another pertinent issue.  A key concern is the potential for data breaches or misuse of the collected information. While the registry is not public, authorized entities like law enforcement agencies have access to the data, raising concerns about privacy and potential abuse. While access to beneficial ownership information is vital for law enforcement, safeguarding personal data and preventing misuse is equally important. While the CTA has safeguards in place, ensuring their effectiveness will be critical in maintaining trust and avoiding unintended consequences.

Furthermore, the CTA’s impact extends beyond US borders. As a leading economy, the US setting a transparency standard could pressure other countries to follow suit, creating a more level playing field and fostering international cooperation against financial crime. However, potential inconsistencies in global regulations could create challenges for multinational businesses and smaller businesses that may be engaging in transactions across borders.

The CTA is still in its early stages, and its full impact will unfold over time, revealing whether the CTA can effectively balance transparency with other crucial concerns, shaping the future of corporate accountability and financial integrity.As regulations are refined, court rulings shape interpretations, and enforcement actions provide clarity, the law’s true effect will become clearer. Ongoing monitoring and adjustments will be essential to ensure it achieves its intended goals without creating undue burdens or unintended consequences. While challenges and questions remain, its potential to combat financial crime, improve national security, and level the playing field is undeniable.

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