A shelf company is a company that has never traded or had any activity, it has been created and then metaphorically been 'put on the shelf' to age.
Historically creating a company could take weeks or even months, accountants and shelf company providers would go through the process and register companies to keep on the shelf for when their clients needed them. When a client needed a company they would then transfer ownership of the shares, change the directors as well as change the name. Even though the creation of a shelf company has become very rare, the term 'Shelf company provider' has stuck, even when the service is registering new companies.
Now with near instant company creation the main reason to acquire a shelf company is if you want the registration date for your company to be in the past. This may be for tax reasons or to add the impression that the company has been in business for some time.
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