Holding Company: Definition, Advantages and Uses

holding companyAuthor: Zeinab Farhat, Progressive Legal

holding company

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, you’ve probably come across the concept of holding companies when exploring how to structure your business. Holding companies offer various advantages, notably in terms of asset protection.

On this page, we’ll delve into the fundamentals of holding companies, their typical structure, the advantages, their liability for subsidiary debts, and step-by-step guidance on creating a holding company in Australia. Discover how this strategic business structure can safeguard your assets and optimise your business endeavours.

What is a holding company?

Company structures can get quite confusing.

In simple terms, a holding company is a type of company that’s typically established for the purpose of acquiring shares in other companies. These companies, whose shares have been purchased, are referred to as subsidiaries. What sets holding companies apart is that, in most cases, they don’t engage in the sale or production of goods or services.

Now, here’s the key distinction – while holding companies don’t directly sell products or services, their primary role is to hold the assets owned by their subsidiary companies. The subsidiary company, often referred to as an operating company, is the one responsible for day-to-day business operations.

This includes entering into contracts, hiring employees, managing customer relationships, and all the nitty-gritty aspects of running a business.

In essence, the holding company and its subsidiaries work in tandem, with the holding company acting as the guardian of assets, while the subsidiary handles the active business activities.

What is the structure of a holding company?

The structure of a holding company typically consists of two main elements:

Holding Company

This is the parent company that holds ownership stakes in one or more subsidiary companies. The holding company’s primary purpose is to manage and control its subsidiaries, often by appointing a board of directors or making key strategic decisions.

Subsidiary Companies

These are the businesses or entities in which the holding company holds a significant ownership interest, typically more than 50%. Subsidiaries can operate independently, with their own management and operations, but they are ultimately under the control of the holding company.

What are the advantages of a holding company?

When it comes to business structures, holding companies offer a range of benefits that are worth exploring. Let’s delve into the advantages they bring:

Asset Protection and Risk Reduction

One of the primary reasons behind adopting the holding/operating company structure is to enhance asset protection. Holding companies safeguard valuable assets such as intellectual property, equipment, and finances.

Here’s how it works – the subsidiary or operating company handles day-to-day operations and trading activities. Should any claims or liabilities arise, they are generally confined to the operating company. In simple terms, only the assets owned by the operating company are exposed to risk, while the holding company enjoys protection.

It’s important to note that there are situations where holding companies may be held liable for their subsidiaries’ actions, as we’ll discuss later on.

Potential Tax Minimisation

While it’s essential to consult with a qualified accountant for tailored tax advice, holding companies are often structured in a way that reduces the overall tax burden for the entire group. This strategic tax planning can lead to substantial savings.

Centralised Control

In cases where holding companies exercise centralised control, the management, typically led by the Board of Directors of the holding company, oversees both the holding company and its subsidiaries.

This centralised approach can enhance performance and coordination across the group of entities. It fosters cohesion and efficient decision-making, promoting the maximisation of resources.

Flexibility for Diversification

Holding companies provide a platform for flexibility in diversifying a group’s business ventures. This flexibility may include facilitating investments in new ventures, exiting existing ones, or diversifying the group’s overall portfolio.

Importantly, subsidiaries can engage in these activities without jeopardising the assets of the holding company. This advantage is particularly valuable in industries with inherent risks.

Succession Planning

Holding companies typically have a centralised board of directors. This structure ensures that even as subsidiaries come and go, management remains in place to oversee existing and incoming entities. This continuity in management helps maintain centralisation as the group evolves over time and potentially transitions to a more complex corporate structure.

In summary, holding companies offer a host of advantages, including asset protection, tax efficiency, centralised control, flexibility for diversification, and robust succession planning.

While these benefits make holding companies an appealing choice, it’s essential to carefully evaluate your specific business needs and consult with legal and financial professionals to determine if this structure aligns with your long-term goals.

At Progressive Legal, our experienced corporate lawyers specialise in providing tailored corporate structure advice based on your business’s unique needs. Request our expert advice below. 

Can a holding company be liable for a subsidiaries debt?

The question of whether a holding company can be held liable for a subsidiary’s debt is a crucial consideration for businesses adopting the holding/operating company structure.

It’s essential to recognise that holding companies can indeed bear responsibility for subsidiary debts. However, it’s equally important not to rely naively on the holding/operating company distinction as an absolute shield against all liability.

Under s 588V of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), a holding company may be deemed liable for the debts of a subsidiary if all of the following five criteria are met:

Holding Company Status

The corporation must be the holding company of a company at the time when the company incurs a debt.

Subsidiary Insolvency

The subsidiary company must be insolvent at the time it incurs the debt, or it becomes insolvent as a result of incurring that debt or other debts at that time.

Reasonable Grounds for Suspecting Insolvency

At that time, there must be reasonable grounds for suspecting that the subsidiary company is insolvent or will become insolvent.

Awareness by the Holding Company or Directors

One or both of the following conditions must apply:

The holding company or one or more of its directors are aware at that time that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting insolvency.

Given the nature and extent of the holding company’s control over the subsidiary’s affairs and other relevant circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that a holding company in similar circumstances would be aware of the insolvency or that one or more of its directors would be aware.


These conditions must occur at or after the commencement of the Corporations Act.

Case Law Example – Giovanni Maurizio Carrello As Liquidator Of Perrinepod Pty Ltd (In Liq) v Perrine Architecture Pty Ltd [2016] WASC 145

In a noteworthy case, it was established that the directors of the holding company failed to prevent the subsidiary from incurring debts while insolvent. Consequently, the holding company was held liable under s 588V of the Corporations Act.

The Court found that there were reasonable grounds for the holding company’s directors to suspect the subsidiary’s insolvency, further solidifying the holding company’s liability under the same section. The defendants in this case were unable to establish a defense under s 588X of the Act.

In summary, while holding companies can provide valuable asset protection and risk mitigation, it’s essential to be aware of the circumstances in which they can be held liable for subsidiary debts. Adherence to the legal framework, close monitoring of subsidiary financial health, and sound corporate governance practices are essential for mitigating this risk effectively.

Consulting with legal experts is advisable to navigate the complexities of corporate liability within the holding/operating company structure.

How do I start a holding company in Australia?

Establishing a holding company structure in Australia is a strategic decision that requires careful planning and consideration. This approach involves forming at least two business entities – the parent company (holding company) and one or more subsidiary companies. To ensure a successful start, you’ll need to make several critical decisions:

Choosing the Right Business Entity

Your choice of business entity is foundational to the entire structure. In Australia, two primary options are commonly considered: corporations and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), also known as proprietary limited companies:


This structure provides limited liability protection to its shareholders and typically involves a formal management structure with directors and shareholders.

LLC (Proprietary Limited Company)

An LLC also offers limited liability protection but stands out for its flexibility in ownership and management.

When deciding between these structures, it’s crucial to align your choice with your long-term business goals, management preferences, and taxation strategies.

Federal Taxation Status

Another vital decision pertains to federal taxation status. You must determine whether each entity should be treated as a separate taxable entity or as a pass-through entity for federal income tax purposes. The choice will have profound implications for your tax planning and financial strategies.

Selection of Formation Jurisdictions

Unlike some countries, Australia allows you to choose any state or territory as the formation jurisdiction for your holding company and its subsidiaries. Importantly, they don’t have to be formed in the same state.

However, remember that each entity conducting business in a state other than its formation state must qualify to do business in that foreign state. Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different jurisdictions before making this decision.

Entity Naming

The names you select for your parent and subsidiary companies carry significant legal weight. You must ensure that these names meet the requirements stipulated by the governing statutes, including specific words, abbreviations, and distinctiveness.

Before filing formation documents, it’s wise to check the availability of your chosen names and consider reserving them to prevent conflicts with other business entities.

Appointing a Registered Agent

Often overlooked but crucial, the selection of a registered agent is vital to ensuring legal compliance and efficient communication for your holding company and its subsidiaries.

In Australia, a registered agent is legally mandated to receive service of process and official communications on behalf of a corporation, LLC, or other business entity. You have two main options:

Individual Agent

You can appoint an individual, such as an employee, owner, or lawyer, as the registered agent.

Professional Registered Agent

Alternatively, you can opt for a professional registered agent service company. These specialized entities manage registered agent responsibilities for multiple businesses, offering expertise and reliability.

Choosing the right registered agent is essential for maintaining compliance with legal requirements and ensuring that your holding company structure operates smoothly.

Starting a holding company in Australia involves a series of pivotal decisions that shape the structure and operation of your business entities. Our specialised corporate lawyers will provide you with the right strategy and expert advice, making your holding company a powerful tool for managing and expanding your business interests in Australia.

Key Takeaways

Holding companies offer unmistakable advantages, especially when it comes to safeguarding valuable assets like intellectual property. By strategically leveraging this structure, you can protect your business interests and enhance financial management.

If you find yourself contemplating the best way to secure your assets or need expert advice on corporate law matters, Progressive Legal is here to assist you.

As specialists in corporate law, we understand the intricate nuances of holding companies and can provide tailored guidance to suit your specific needs. Feel free to request our specialised advice below or contact our office at 1800 820 083.

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