It's no secret that big businesses use their global reach to minimize their taxes, but exactly how it's done is something of a mystery. A service called OpenCorporates hopes to make it easier to track all of that by explaining every single corporate structure there is — and it's created a beautiful, interactive visualization to help explore the complex ownership chains that govern the six largest banks in the United States. The graphic draws lines across the globe that bounce from country to country to trace which company owns which subsidiary, all the way up to the top.
"What if there's a coup in the Caymans tomorrow?"
OpenCorporates' visualization also makes it easy to see just where these companies are setting up: the size of each country is scaled up to match just how many different corporate subsidiaries are located there — so don't be too surprised when the Cayman Islands are half the size of the US. "I think people haven’t really understood the nature of that complexity," OpenCorporates CEO, Chris Taggart, told GigaOm. "What if there’s a coup in the Caymans tomorrow – what does that mean for the US banking system?”
Most of OpenCorporates' information isn't mocked up quite so beautifully — for every company outside of those American banks, corporate structures are drawn as simple family trees. Those trees are easy to follow for companies like The Gap and Starbucks, both of which directly own all of their subsidiaries. But once you move on to a financial company like Barclays, the complex ownership chains start to return.
OpenCorporates has been building its database of company information for about two and a half years now, but it's only opened up and released a lot of its tools this Thursday. The website has over 55 million companies listed in that database, though for now it only has detailed information on a small subset of those. The hope is that one day each entry can be fleshed out, making it easy to understand just where every company really comes from — and where they're reaching out to.