Why online registration skews data for new French businesses

The internet-only process, introduced earlier this year, has made it hard to keep tabs on how many enterprises have been created

Shaking hands with a background of French flag colours
Registration of a new business must now be done online

The number of new businesses in France has dropped slightly this year, although the national statistics agency which released the figures, concedes the data is uncertain.

Insee said that gathering information for 2023 has been hampered by changes to the way new businesses are set up.

Since the start of the year, the process has been entirely online. While this option has been available for at least a decade, previously a paper form could also be used and submitted via centres de formalités des entreprises (CFEs).

Unintended consequences

CFEs were usually found sharing offices with the chambre de commerce et d’industrie or chambre d’agriculture in most departmental prefectures, but have now been shut down.

Insee said the move to purely online registration has complicated rather than streamlined its data-gathering process.

It said in a statement: “The change has temporarily hindered the monthly collection of data about business creation, largely because of delays in registering business creations in the Sirene register.”

This directory gives the address, number of employees and date of creation of all businesses in France, as well as a Siren number. The Siren (système d’identification du répertoire des entreprises) identifies the company according to the order of registration on the Sirene list.

It remains the same throughout the life of the business and is used for all dealings with public bodies and administrative organisations.

Automated process

Insee explained that the new online registration form automatically transmits information to all the state bodies concerned, including the tax office, Urssaf, which collects social security contributions, and chambres de commerce et d’industrie.

However the final registration of a business and issuing of a Siren number can only be completed once the various bodies have validated the form.

The move online has seen the number of questions from these offices increase, and so the time taken to issue a Siren has also grown.

Overview of statistics

Despite this, Insee was confident enough to issue numbers for the first quarter, albeit with a caveat that they might change later. They showed the number of new businesses set up in France – some 87,405 – was down 0.4% compared to 2022.

The auto-entrepreneur regime is still very popular and accounted for 54,709 of new businesses, with the rest registered under more traditional regimes. Insee identified a marked decline in the number of new businesses related to teaching, health and social services.

New transport businesses which had surged during Covid lockdowns also fell sharply.

The start of the online registration process in January was chaotic, with auto-entrepreneurs in particular complaining that what used to be a simple process was now an hours-long challenge.

The situation was not helped by a cyberattack which closed the system for two days.

Since then, however, the situation seems to have improved and the number of complaints has reduced.

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