- October 23, 2018
Are you taking full advantage of tax-exempt share plans?
In last month’s newsletter, we explained why the Inclusive Ownership Fund (IOF), proposed in the September 2018 Labour Party Conference, may not be the best method of enabling workers to share in the wealth they create. We agree wholeheartedly that employee ownership can help increase a company’s productivity and encourage employees to identify more closely with the business; but there is already a good range of tax-advantaged share plans available. It is a shame that they are not more widely used!
There has been support for employee share ownership from all the main political parties for nearly 40 years. Their incentive effect is also recognised by institutional investors whose guidelines allow up to 10% of a company’s share capital to be issued for share plans every 10 years – the same percentage as proposed for IOF.
We now have tried and tested share plans which are flexible enough to reinforce most companies’ business and HR strategies. However, whilst 20 years ago (according to HMRC statistics) about 1 million employees participated in each of the approved Profit Sharing Share Schemes (now replaced by Share Incentive Plans) and SAYE Option Schemes, in 2016-17 participants in SAYE and SIPs had fallen to about 400,000 in each plan. We think that smaller companies, in particular, may have been put off by the apparent complexity of the legislation; even though MM&K have found it is possible to design share plans which are simple to administer and to communicate to employees.
Is your company taking full advantage of the opportunities to incentivise employees and provide them with valuable tax reliefs?
Using a SIP, every employee can participate up to the following annual limits:
• £1,800 of contributions from their earnings before income tax and NICs (or 10% of PAYE earnings, if less) to buy Partnership Shares
• £3,600 (2 for 1 match) in tax-exempt Matching Shares awarded by the company
• £3,600 in tax-exempt Free Shares awarded by the company, for example as part of a profit share.
In practice, only half of companies with SIPs award Matching Shares and only about a quarter award Free Shares.
Employees can contribute up to £500 per month over three or five years. At the end of this savings period, they can buy their company’s shares at a discount of up to 20% of the share price at the start. The discount is exempt from income tax and NICs.
Both SIPs and SAYE require all UK-resident employees who meet any qualifying period of service to participate and all must be offered the same terms (which can include the same percentage of salary). If these conditions are too onerous, companies may be able to use one of two ‘discretionary’ tax-advantaged share plans for employees generally:
EMI plans can be used to grant options over up to £3 million worth of shares to a company’s employees and the increase in the share value up to the exercise date is exempt from income tax and NICs and may qualify for entrepreneurs’ relief from capital gains tax.
These arrangements are available for smaller companies, with fewer than 250 employees and gross assets not exceeding £30 million, except for some excluded activities.
Options can be granted over shares worth up to £30,000 per employee and the gain on exercise is exempt from income tax and NICs.
Please contact Michael Landon if you would like to discuss in more detail how the above tax-advantaged share plans can be adapted to meet your company’s particular objectives.
- October 23, 2018
Value Creation Plans – genuine attempts at designing executive LTIPs or too complex to explain?
Some years ago, I attended the AGM of one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets. A shareholder asked a question about the proposed new executive LTIP. After a pause, one of the non-executives stood up and replied “it is too complex to explain”. I was reminded of this recently when MM&K inherited two Value Creation Plans (VCPs) adopted by clients who had recently appointed us.
In both cases, the client had been advised by the same firm and there was an apparent lack of appreciation among the Board and shareholders about the details of how the plans worked or the financial/economic consequences of having adopted them.
The VCP concept is simple – in essence VCP’s are stock appreciation rights settled in shares (or nil-cost options):
Stage 1: Award notional performance units to participants
• Performance units are not equivalent to shares; they define an allocation of future value created
Stage 2: Units convert into nil-cost options according to the value created
• TSR is calculated at a designated future date or dates
• If TSR exceeds a threshold compound annual growth rate, some or all of the units convert into nil-cost options
• The number of shares into which units convert is a function of the number of units awarded, the company’s TSR performance above the threshold and the market price of a share in the company on the conversion date
Stage 3: Nil-cost options vest and become exercisable
• Nil-cost options are held until a vesting date or dates
• On each vesting date, nil-cost options vest and become exercisable if the company’s TSR/share price growth has exceeded a specified minimum acceptable rate
• Post-vesting, options remain exercisable up to 10 years after the award of units
The above outlines the general principle but plans may vary in detail. For example, if units fail to convert (because TSR performance at the relevant date fails to exceed the threshold) VCP rules may provide for re-testing at a subsequent date. Re-testing performance and adopting LTIPs linked exclusively to TSR (share price growth, if there are no dividends) with no financial or operational targets are not the flavour of the month with investors in listed companies.
As ever, the devil is in the detail and there was a lot of impenetrable detail in the plan rules we inherited. However, the purpose of this piece is not to dwell on this or that form of words or complex formula. Our inherited VCPs were almost identical, clearly hewn from the same block, and yet they had been adopted by two very different companies in terms of size, activity and market positioning. There are good reasons for standardisation and “working smarter” but an incentive should be tailored to the business for which it is being designed. Corporate governance now has a much higher profile in relation to executive pay than hitherto. Incentive plans must be technically sound, work for the business and take account of applicable good governance principles.
But the most striking feature of our VCP inheritance has been the lack of appreciation about how the plans operate and potential outcomes. This emphasises the need for clear explanation. It also underlines the essential value of modelling a wide range of potential outcomes to minimise the risk of future surprises which might cause companies and their shareholders to regret their decision to adopt a VCP in the first place and there is the prospect of adverse publicity if payments are more generous that had been expected.
As a concept, VCPs tick the box of aligning executives with shareholders, insofar as they are linked to TSR or share price growth. Added features such as awards of notional performance units, complex conversion formulae and consequentially impenetrable rules are not necessary. It is, however, critical that companies, their shareholders and remuneration committees fully appreciate the plan which they have adopted – and its potential consequences.
As VCP’s attract no special tax advantages, it is hard to see what the added complexity brings to the table, when a similar result can be achieved with a much simpler share plan.
Paul Norris, Chief Executive
MM & K Limited
- October 18, 2018
How do not-for-profits design their long-term incentives?
MM&K investigated the LTIP policies for 59 of the largest not-for-profit organisations to answer this question.
Our sample consists of Charities, Housing Associations, Co-operatives, Building Societies, Mutual Insurance companies and Education Establishments (Universities and College Groups). It is important to note that the vast majority of these organisations do not operate an LTIP. Policy data is publicly available for 16 companies, which we have analysed.
Firstly, we found that the performance measures are very specific to the individual organisation. This contrasts with what we see in many listed companies, which often have very similar designs of LTIPs within certain sectors, especially the performance measures. For example, Oil & Gas exploration and production companies will often place a heavy weighting on a TSR based target. In contrast, in not-for profit companies the performance measures vary greatly; examples include return on capital, revenue, profit and net debt to EBITDA ratio. There are a few measures we do see recurring – such as employee engagement and customer service, but even these only occur in just over half of the companies we looked at.
This isn’t the only way in which the designs differ from listed companies. All the not-for-profit plans are cash-based (as there aren’t any shares available!) whereas it is much more common for listed companies to award shares through their LTIPs. Also, the earnings opportunity is generally more modest, with exceptions such as Liverpool Victoria offering a maximum opportunity of 300% of salary to its CEO.
In all cases, awards are granted annually and vest over a period of three years, a paradigm often seen in listed companies’ LTIP designs. We found only two cases in which an additional deferral/holding period is required. This is where the company defers the award for a further period of time (usually between one and three years), with no further performance conditions, a practice that is rapidly becoming the norm among listed companies.
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- October 18, 2018
Negative Feedback is Good for You
It is curious how many technical expressions slip into the common language with a meaning entirely different from their true meaning – and often opposite.
A couple of examples are “epicentre” and “lowest common denominator”. People commonly use “epicentre” to mean the very heart of the centre. The press might report “Tottenham was the epicentre of the London riots in summer 2011”. Users of the word clearly think that there is something especially central about the epicentre. But the word is borrowed from seismology and refers to earthquakes. The epicentre is the point on the surface of the Earth above (usually some miles above), the place deep underground, where the rock slip happened.
The lowest common denominator of a set of numbers is the lowest number that all the numbers in the set will divide into exactly. By definition it is as high as or higher than all the numbers in the set. If it is borrowed as a metaphor it should mean the best in the set. But people don’t mean that at all; they mean the lowest in the set, the slowest vessel in the convoy. lowest sounds appropriately disparaging.
Another expression misused in management is “negative feedback”. It is used to mean giving people performance feedback which criticises. as opposed to praising them. “You did a great job in that project but (points one to ten…)”
“Negative feedback has a very specific meaning in systems design. A common example is in electronic amplification. By taking a small amount of the output of the amplifier, reversing the polarity and feeding it back into the input stage, the signal becomes stabilised. If ever you have held a microphone too near a loud-speakers you will know what positive feedback does – the system starts screaming. Negative feedback damps down the system output and ensures a high quality output.
It occurred to me that performance reviewers do, unconsciously, provide negative feedback in the true meaning of the expression. They tell the appraisee the opposite of the truth to keep them on the rails. You don’t say “you did a total lousy job” even if they did. You say, you missed your targets, but the strategy report you wrote was good. Why? Because we want to keep them motivated.
On the other hand, to the successful appraisee we don’t say “you did a fantastic job, the best we ever saw”. We don’t want it going to their head. So we tone it down – “you did well, but here are some areas you could improve”. In other words, we tell a few white lies – we give negative feedback. We are not taught to do this – it’s something we pick up in the process of managing effectively. The important thing, however, is not to overdo it. Otherwise the appraisee will be confused. There are some famous stories about people who went into a meeting with the boss where he (women don’t make this mistake) was supposed to be firing them, and who came out thinking they had been promoted, he was so lavish with his praise!
For advice on Performance Management systems contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- September 27, 2018
When is an employees’ share scheme not an employees’ share scheme?
The answer is: when it’s an Inclusive Ownership Fund (IOF).
Few would disagree that an engaged workforce delivers greater productivity or that offering shares to employees creates direct engagement with the financial and economic performance of the business. But proposals announced at the Labour Party Conference this week that would require companies employing more than 250 people to set aside up to 10% of their shares to be held in an IOF fall short of the mark. In common with many proposals from political parties, a shortage of detail raises a number of questions.
Shares will be held collectively – who bears the cost of transferring shares to an IOF? Shares cannot be traded; individual employees will not enjoy the full benefits of share ownership – who will be the legal owner and who benefits from any capital growth? Voting will be in the hands of fund representatives – will they be subject to the same requirements to disclose how they have engaged with and taken account of the interests of the workforce as boards of directors will be under recent changes to corporate governance codes and regulation? The extent of an individual employee’s rights will be to receive dividends capped at £500 per year – any excess going to the Government.
This has been variously described as part nationalisation of the private sector and a tax on private sector companies. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/23/labour-private-sector-employee-ownership-plan-john-mcdonnell referred to the proposals as “a new levy on private business”. Concerns have been raised about the potential adverse effect on investment in the UK, on productivity and employment if businesses curtail recruitment, go private/private equity owned or relocate overseas.
Whilst the upside is limited, it has to be said that there appears to be little downside for employees in Labour’s proposals. But if Labour’s motive is to promote wider share ownership, engagement and alignment, a framework already exists read more
- September 27, 2018
How will Remuneration Committees cope with their expanded remit?
Changes to UK corporate governance guidance and disclosure regulations introduced this summer have expanded the remit of remuneration committees. The effects reach beyond quoted companies. We have designed a programme to help navigate through the added complexity.
The UK Corporate Governance Code (UKCGC), applicable to companies with a premium listing in London, now requires remuneration committees to have delegated responsibility for setting remuneration for senior managers. It goes further, requiring remuneration committees to review workforce remuneration and related polices and the alignment of incentives and rewards with culture, and to take these into account when setting executive remuneration policy.
Regulations made under the Companies Act, which govern the content of the Directors’ Report, Strategic Report and Directors’ Remuneration Report (DRR), will require enhanced disclosures. Some of the changes will affect all companies, depending on size but only quoted companies are required to publish a DRR. Most of the changes come into force for financial years starting on or after 1 January 2019, so their effect will not be seen until the annual reports published in 2020 are available. However, some committees may wish voluntarily to comply in their 2019 annual report to test the water.
The objective is greater clarity about actions taken, the reasons why they were taken and their effect on key decisions made during the year to which the relevant report relates. Specifically in relation to the DRR, remuneration committees will have to make additional disclosures about read more
- September 27, 2018
Commons Committee on the tail of the fat cats again
The Commons Committee is chasing a myth again. Its chair, Rachel Reeves, has told the Mail on Sunday that the Committee is going to ramp up its attack on fat cats this autumn. She believes that executive pay is increasing at a rate that vastly exceeds increases for ordinary employees and which seemingly is at odds with the value created in the Company. Damien Knight shows that neither part of this belief is true. But fat cat pay is too easy a target for the press to leave it alone. Read more or for more information contact email@example.com
- September 27, 2018
Governance landscape at a glance “the most eventful year in history”
2018 has been, probably, the most eventful year in UK history on remuneration governance. The year saw the culmination of the Government’s wide initiative on corporate governance reform, with a revised UK Corporate Governance Code published by the FRC in July and new corporate disclosure regulations approved by Parliament in June. This was supplemented by a revised corporate governance code from the Quoted Companies Alliance in April and the draft of new governance principles for private companies from the Wates committee.
In addition we have had the reports on the first gender pay gap disclosure by companies, and a new AIM rule requiring all AIM-listed companies to publish by the end of September details of the recognised corporate governance code they intend to adopt and their level of compliance.
Starting from last December we have now had two reports from the Investor Association of the voting “name and shame list”, showing AGM resolutions that fail to gain more than 80% of the votes. Read more
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- September 17, 2018
SEC rescinds guidance providing regulatory support for using proxy advisors
On Thursday 13th September, the SEC rescinded two guidance letters from 2004 in a move that will potentially reduce the influence that ISS has on, among other things, Say-on-Pay votes.
These guidance letters informed investment managers that outsourcing their proxy voting decisions to proxy advisors would satisfy their obligations as fiduciaries to vote their shares while avoiding potential conflicts of interest with regards to companies whose funds they may be managing. For example, if Vanguard has proxies to vote for a company in one of its index funds, and that company also uses Vanguard in managing its pension fund, Vanguard could conceivably be influenced by its business relationship with that company to vote with management on the proxy matters. By essentially delegating to ISS or Glass-Lewis the votes on its shares in that company, Vanguard would be “cleansed” of potential allegations of conflict, based on the 2004 letters. With that guidance rescinded, Vanguard and others can choose to vote according to their own determination of the merits of each proxy resolution, which may or may not correspond to proxy advisor recommendations.
Critics of these SEC guidance letters have argued that they effectively institutionalized proxy advisory firms, especially ISS, as de facto regulators without the oversight required of actual regulators, and that over-reliance on such firms may not be in investors’ best interests.
ISS’s business model is arguably built largely on regulatory requirements, especially the 2003 SEC rule mandating that investment managers disclose their proxy voting policies (and votes) and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act mandating Say-on-Pay, among other provisions. Many of the larger institutional investors have built internal governance expertise to guide voting decisions, using ISS data to help them screen companies to target, while smaller funds have generally found it more cost effective to meet these requirements by essentially outsourcing their votes to ISS. The larger firms, however, have also outsourced many of their votes due, in part, to the 2004 guidance letters because they are more likely to sell investment management to the companies that they also invest in.
Research indicates that ISS has gained significant influence over shareholder voting and, consequently, on corporate governance policies. As their influence has grown, ISS’s dominance has been increasingly challenged by public companies and certain governance critics who have focused on ISS’s own potential conflicts of interest and the quality of the research and standards behind their recommendations.
Following more recent SEC guidance for casting their votes in their client’s best interest should provide investment managers a strong basis for defending their voting decisions, even as they reduce their reliance on proxy advisors. The impact of this rescission is not expected to be very significant in terms of how investors generally oversee compensation governance. But it does portend continued push-back on ISS’s influence as the SEC prepares for its November roundtable on potential regulation of proxy advisors.
However, the outcome is uncertain. Our advice from s UK proxy advisor is that the drafting of the original letters was poor, and the SEC may well issue new guidance.
- August 30, 2018
Investment Association register of AGM votes 2018
On 30 August the Investment Association published its analysis of voting in the 2018 AGM season. Company resolutions are added to the register if they fail to achieve an 80% vote in favour.
The picture is rather confused. For all listed companies the number of resolutions not achieving the hurdle dropped from 68 in 2017 to 61 in 2017. But the number in the FTSE 100 doubled from 9 to 18.
Most of the “failed” failed votes were for the advisory vote on remuneration implementation. Only 12 in total concerned the remuneration policy. This is remarkable in a year when many companies would have been coming back to shareholders to renew the policy since the three year validity would now be up.
The poor showing of a relatively small number of FTSE 100 companies is indicative of the intention of institutional investors to go after the high profile cases – WPP, Persimmon, BT. It is no indication of a general breakdown in corporate governance: indeed the improved general voting this year suggests practice is improving.
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