Locating the assets of a business can be incredibly difficult, because assets can be held in many, many ways. Among the many creative money management methods available, business assets can be legally held in a foreign country, as a corporate shell, or a personal trust. Some are liquid—cash or easily converted into cash. While some are intangible—lacking a physical presence and may be hard to place a value upon. And still others may be hidden—cleverly by choice to hide wealth or hard to find because of government financial protection laws.
Hiding business assets is so much easier than hiding personal assets, because one can create new umbrella accounts and shell companies to hide money. The only way to locate business assets is to start finding the ‘dots’ and then begin to connect them.
Typical assets controlled by a business include: Real Property; Personal Property; Investments and Trusts (Financial Assets); Intellectual Property; and Subsidiaries/Spin-offs.
In our 5-Part Industry Undercover series, we will examine how to conduct an assets investigation and offer some practical search procedures follows. This week, we look at financial investments and trusts and provide examples of how to search for and investigate them.
Financial Investments and Trusts
Financial assets include stocks, international stocks, currencies and commodities, bonds, and mutual funds. Locating these financial assets is often considered the golden egg, since they can be more valuable than such physical assets as cars or machinery. If you are judgment searching, use some of your database sources and, if necessary, legal process (process serving) to find bank accounts and 401K plans. However, without a judgment in hand, there is little in the way of finding these accounts beyond gum shoe tactics. Depending on the state and city laws, trash pickups are still a viable way to find bank accounts.
Hint: Pick up garbage when companies’ boards are meeting and approving quarterly reports. These voluminous printed quarterlies often get thrown out in whole.
Caveat: Dumpster diving is not the method of choice; privacy laws are tightening up even on trash runs. The following technical approaches make it easier—if not cleaner—to locate assets.
Searching for Investments and Other Financial Assets
Owning more than five percent of a stock makes it public record, and, thus, it can be searched in Nexis and through SEC filings. However, most individuals do not own that much stock in a company.
To locate investments, try searching legal filings. If the individual filed for a divorce, the assets listed in the divorce decree will offer a page-by-page account of all assets, including 401K retirement plans, stock options, and other key investment information.
Trusts can be located by address. Search the individual’s home address in a public record database; if trust accounts are registered to that location, they will be listed. Without legal process, nothing else can be obtained on them—however, it is an indicator that assets are being stored under the trust.
Dun & Bradstreet is another resource for locating trusts. Search the free side of D&B to track trusts under family names. There are some excellent industry news resources that offer high-end, quality information for venture capital and private equity research and alerts. Their subscription prices match the information they give, allowing you to search by investor, to find company reports, and to help you understand what the status of funding is within a company.
VentureSource, by Dow Jones, is a subscription service that covers news in the venture-capital market for the U.S.
Thomson Financial focuses on Canadian capital markets with its VCReporter service. Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ, although expensive, offers almost 10,000 profiles on private, capital firms worldwide, including information on companies, co-investors, individuals’ biographies, and corporate portfolios.
Mergermarket Ltd, owned by the Financial Times, offers intelligence, reporting, tracking, and alerting for any merger moves or equity shifts. More economical resources for keeping on top of these markets include: EDGAR Online, SEC Info, and the SEC.
If you are involved in a judgment collections case, try MicroBilt’s Collection Recovery resource.
In asset investigation or debt recovery work, have a clear starting point for your attack. Document everything—even the smallest detail—you find. Save all your files. A random mention of flying lessons on a social media page may, a few months later, prompt you to search for aircraft tail numbers.
Pair your excellent searcher skills with some of these professional tools reviewed here and watch how your report fills out.
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