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Network Data: Unearthing secrets hidden in companies trinket boxes

Just because a particular employee is the public face of an organisation, it does not necessarily mean that they are the person in charge. Scratching beneath the surface of company records reveals this to be the case in many situations

In 2006 we saw the well-publicised departures of Mark Leaper from Vesta Packaging and Tony Corrigan from Classic Mortgage Network. For a long time they were the public faces of those organisations. Whenever a story appeared in the trade press concerning one of those companies it would be accompanied more often than not by a mugshot of the relevant person.

Im sure I was not alone in assuming they were the proprietors or senior partners in their businesses. But evidently not. In both cases, they suddenly left to join another firm.

Revelation of the true owners of companies in our industry, and their finances, can sometimes be surprising. This series of articles will be looking in detail at such companies, both private as well as public companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

There is a wealth of competitive information to be gained from scratching below the surface of company accounts and the annual return which lists the shareholders in a company.

In October last year, the financial investment by Friends Provident in Home of Choice was a closely guarded secret, with neither party disclosing details of the transaction. With the latest annual return of HoC having been filed on November 12, we now discover that Friends Provident bought 9.9% of the total issued shares in the company.

As some readers will know, 9.9% is a magic number which means HoC does not have to disclose Friend Providents interest in the company when selling its products to clients. Any higher shareholding and such explicit disclosure would have to be made.

All limited or plc companies are registered with Companies House. Details on its website include the registered office address and dates for accounts and annual returns to be filed.

A cursory glance revealing the emotive word dissolved will spur the enquiring mind to dig out the story. Late filing of accounts is another source of inspiration.

Tracking down the detail is normally a matter of moving from step to step. But there is always the danger of hitting a brick wall. Many private companies take advantage of total exemption rules that apply to small companies, which means audited accounts are not listed at Companies House, although the annual return must be completed regardless of size.

Much more information is available on public (quoted) companies. Under London Stock Exchange rules there are strict reporting requirements and public companies are obliged to issue trading statements through the Regulatory News Service of the LSE plus any important occurrences such as a change in directors of the company.

Being a public company is akin to operating in a glasshouse everyone can see what you are doing. It is part of the price you pay for having your shares listed on the Official List or the Alternative Investment Market of the LSE.

The RNS statements issued by companies normally contain a wealth of information. Reading through them is akin to rummaging through a box of trinkets in that sooner or later you will stumble across a real gem.

The RNS contents are carefully crafted by the chairman or chief executive of the company to present issues in the best possible light but it is not too difficult to read between the lines.

I look forward to presenting such information in a constructive and educational light. I would more than welcome input from readers. Either point me in the direction of companies of particular interest or provide me with information not available through the public channels mentioned above. All strictly confidential of course.

Richard Griffiths, Managing Director, Network Data


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