In business, it’s important to know with whom you’re dealing. Key information about registered companies will be stored in the competent registration authority’s databases. If you can access that information, you can get answers to important questions, such as: Much of this information is published online – and some of it, at least, won’t cost you a cent.
Much of this information is published online – and some of it, at least, won’t cost you a cent.
Properly identifying a company is particularly critical when you are contracting with that company, or when you want to issue or serve proceedings against that company.
The free information that’s available varies in both quantity and quality depending on the jurisdiction and the type of entity you are researching, but on the whole you should be able to piece together a good picture of most companies from a combination of official search tools and alternative search services.
You may also be able to find out about a company’s finances. The free information available can range from copies of annual reports to short-form notices about any insolvency proceedings.
In this post, I have listed the free official search facilities for a range of English-speaking jurisdictions, detailing the types of information each one supplies. I have also highlighted some important jurisdictions don’t offer free company information, as well as the alternative search tools you can use to find out about company information from around the world.
In the USA, your first port of call will be the official company search tool on the US Securities and Exchange Commission website. This lists all corporations whose shares are trade publicly.
Here you will be able to find:
- Company names
- Current business and mailing addresses
- State locations
- Fiscal years
- Every type of filing the company has made with the SEC, such as annual and quarterly reports
If you’re searching for a private company, however, you should use state level search facilities. To see which states offer free information and which don’t, check out this page (from the UK Companies House website). The information available will vary from state to state.
In Canada, the search gets a little trickier. You can search for information on federal corporations using the government’s official search tool, but if you want information on any financial institution, insurance company or loan and trust company, then you will have to look elsewhere and use one of the alternative search engines further down the page.
However, despite this shortfall, the Canadian government provides a very generous amount of free information for its federal corporations. Here you will be able to find:
- Corporate names
- Business and corporation numbers
- Business status
- Registered office addresses
- Annual filing information such as dates and filing periods
- Names and numbers of directors
- Corporate name history
- Certificates issued
- The corporation’s governing piece of legislation
If you’re not sure whether the company you’re looking for is a federal company or not, then make sure you have a look at the search tips provided by the Canadian government.
In the UK, searching for free company information is simple but limited. By using the official online WebCHeck service at Companies House, you will be able to search for both company names and the addresses of the registered offices free of charge. It also allows you to see:
- The company’s status
- The type and nature of its business
- Whether it has any insolvency details or actions registered against its name
However, if you want to find out more detailed information about a company, such as verifying the state of its company accounts, annual returns or record and appointment reports, then you will have to order these reports at a price from Companies House.
For full details on what’s free and what’s not, check out this Companies House information page.
In Australia, the amount of free information is very similar to the situation in the UK. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission website only allows you to see the following information before you start encountering additional charges:
- Company name
- Company number
- Office locality and jurisdiction
- Company type and status
- Any insolvency proceedings
If you want further information on a company, even something as simple as their registered address, you will have to pay for a full company extract from either an ASIC Service Centre or one of the ASIC information brokers.
For more details and to see a comparison of what information you can get for free as opposed to paying for it, check out the ASIC Register.
In New Zealand, on the other hand, free information is much easier to come by. The Companies Office website provides a very thorough overview of their companies, and the company summary alone reveals the following information:
- Company name and number
- Registered and service addresses
- Company incorporation date
- Company status and its entity type
- Annual Report filing month
- Names and addresses of directors
In addition to this there is also detailed information on shareholdings, including the total number of shares and allocations, as well as copies of filed company documents.
If you’re searching for an Indian company, you will need to use the Ministry of Corporate Affairs search tool. Here you will be able to find:
- Company name and CIN code
- Registration number
- Registered address
- Company category and company class
- Authorised and paid up capital
You can also do a separate search at the Ministry of Corporate Affairs for a company’s public documents, where you can find annual report balance sheets, incorporation documents, and various types of certificates.
An additional free search tool can be found on fundoodata.com. While most of the information available here is similar to that filed on the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, fundoodata.com will also be able to provide you with employee numbers, a company’s total turnover, and information about whether that company is part of a group.
In South Africa, you’ll need to visit the official Companies and Intellectual Property Commission website. Though the information is somewhat limited, you can discover free of charge:
- Registered addresses and postal addresses
- Additional contact information
- Business registration dates
- Current business status
- Enterprise type and enterprise number
If you want to access any company documents, however, then you will have to pay a fee.
Alternative free search tools:
If your jurisdiction does not have an adequate official search tool, there are also a range of alternative search engines at your disposal.
Hoover’s.com is a commercial organisation which provides both free and subscription services, but the free company information may be enough for preliminary research.
Not only do they provide you with a company description and a summary of its competitive strategies, it also gives the following free information for companies around the world:
- Company name and addresses
- Phone and fax numbers
- Corporation rankings
- Employee numbers
- Top executive names
- Industries where the company competes
- Top competitors
- Links to companies in related fields and industries
- Company sales
- Fiscal years
- Income statements
- Balance sheets and cash flow statements
- Stock quotes
Hoover’s can be also used to search for general industry overviews.
Another commercial organisation which offers free information for companies across all jurisdictions is CorporateInformation.com. In addition to the majority of information supplied by Hoover’s, CorporateInformation.com will reveal:
- Samples of basic company reports
- Financial reports
- Wright Quality Analyses reports
- Stocks and shares information
- Total company sales