Anyone who has invested or done research in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) will know the challenge of finding reliable sources of company information. To help you get started, we have put together this five-step guide of helpful tips and what to look out for.
1. Which jurisdiction?
It may sound obvious, but it is crucial to know where the company you are looking for is registered. In many cases knowing the country is sufficient, particularly where there is a centralised company registry, but in the MEA region we often find multiple jurisdictions within a single country; examples include the federal and Kurdistan regions within Iraq, or free trade zones which exist within several countries in the region, notably in the UAE. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria, companies have historically registered in their local city or province and the registry system has been centralised more recently, meaning that the most detailed and upto-date information is only held at a local level.
What’s in a name? – a basic point, but make sure that you have the name of your entity 100% correct as you may find several similar names or near matches when you are searching. Note that companies in the region often use a trading name or style that is different from their official registered name. This could range from minor variations (the use of ‘group’ or ‘holdings’ is popular) through to a name which is completely different from what appears at the registry. Check the company’s website (if they have one) for T&Cs or policy pages, which may include an official entity name.
2. Legal form
Another useful signpost towards the information you are looking for is the legal form of the entity. These are specific to the company formation laws of each jurisdiction and cover a range of entities, from publicly listed companies to limited liability companies to sole proprietorships. The legal form will dictate how each entity is established and structured, as well as its reporting obligations to the relevant authorities, which in turn – crucially for us – often determine how much information is available in the public domain.
Suffixes are your friend – look out for the company suffix (e.g. LLC, Limited, FZE) as this will indicate the legal form and, sometimes, the jurisdiction they are registered in; for example SAEs are only found in Egypt, and SALs are specific to Lebanon.
3. Is the registry online?
A positive trend of recent years is that more countries in the MEA region have made it easier to access company registry information online. Whilst some of these registry websites are free to air, such as Bahrain’s Sijilat service, other countries restrict access to those with a national ID and who can pay fees from a local bank account.
In countries such as Angola and Iran, large amounts of company information have been available for years in the form of online gazettes that publish announcements of company formations and subsequent amendments as they occur, which make it challenging to search and collate all the relevant information. In many other jurisdictions, company information remains offline, often only in paper form, and it will clearly be some time before an online company registry (let alone an API) is available.
Un-real time updates – companies in the MEA region are generally only required to submit updated information to the registry on an annual reporting cycle, or to coincide with their licence renewal. As a result, changes of ownership or directors can sometimes take weeks (or months) to be reflected in the official records.
4. Language barriers
Bear in mind that many MEA company registries, if they are online, only provide information in the local language of record: Arabic, French, Turkish, Farsi, Portuguese or English. Local language skills are therefore a distinct advantage – either to search by name, or particularly if you want to contact the in-country registry or a local lawyer directly.
Transl(iter)ation – you may find different versions of a company name in English, depending on how the Arabic or Farsi words have been translated or transliterated (there are often several ways Arabic letters and words can be rendered in the Latin script). When searching for companies, the best approach is to use the name in the original language; otherwise, try the commonly accepted English name (e.g. from the company’s own website) or a database or engine with fuzzy search capability.
5. Other external sources
There are other resources out there that can help you navigate the company
information landscape of the MEA region. These include:
- Company websites – whilst many company websites in the region can be short
on detail (or not exist at all) they are always worth checking for key identifiers
such as official entity names, addresses and key principals.
- Business directories and membership associations – companies can voluntarily
list their details with online directories, industry associations and chambers of
- Non-profit organisations – company information covering some of the MEA
region is available from organisations such as the Global LEI Foundation (GLEIF),
a G20 initiative with the ambition to provide a unique identifier for every
company in the world, and OpenCorporates, a website which shares data on
- Business information providers – along with Diligencia’s online platform
ClarifiedBy.com there are a number of commercial data providers on the market
ranging from global aggregators to credit reporting agencies.
What’s the source? – wherever you go to find entity data, it is crucial to understand the original source of the information, whether it is the official company registry, reports in the media or the company itself. Only then can you make a judgement on its accuracy and reliability for your business decisions.
It can take time and a degree of persistence to find accurate and reliable company information in a way that is comprehensive and easy to read. This is what Diligencia does in order to provide clarity around the key relationships which underpin business in the MEA region. Having a clear view of a company’s structure, management and ownership is a fundamental building block of sound decision making, which in turn creates the foundation for growth and prosperity.