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Employee Share Ownership Plans (ESOP) as a Funding Option?


Employee Share Ownership Plans (ESOP) as a Funding Option?

By , July 31, 2018

Many people are aware we use Employee Share Schemes (ESS) as a Business Succession and Exit Planning tool to help retain key people, to improve SME performance, to build the team culture and engagement. They are also well known as a potential exit strategy where the founders sell the business over time to the employees.

Employee shares in private companies are also a potential funding option. The rules were improved in 2015 to make employee share plans more attractive and easier to implement. As a by-product, the plans can be used to ease cash expenses and can also be used to raise capital by having employees buy-in.

Tax-Free Plans

The traditional tax-free plans have always allowed employees to obtain up to $1,000 in “free” shares per annum. Most listed companies utilise this model and there is no reason why smaller privately owned companies cannot use the ESS rules in the same way.

Salary Sacrifice

The new rules also incorporated a salary sacrifice model whereby employees can salary sacrifice up to $5,000 per year to contribute to an ESOP. This can also reduce the cashflow cost to the employer whilst providing employees with access to equity in the company they work for.

Employee Remuneration Trusts

In the same way, the Employee Remuneration trust style plans – like our Peak Performance Trust allows employees to contribute financially to buy the shares. This is a mechanism to provide additional capital to the company. This can also be aided thru the use of a vendor (company or founder) loan to allow the employee to buy more shares. This capital can be used to fund growth (issue of new shares and capital retained by the company) or can be used as a succession tool to buy-out the owners (sale of shares and capital provided to the existing shareholders). Both methods work to obtain capital and can be an excellent succession funding option.

Obviously, the employee share plan must be designed to meet the rules, but this is not as difficult as it used to be under the old rules. Employee shares in a private company can be used as a funding mechanism, in various formats, with substantial other benefits in terms of performance and engagement.

Craig West

Craig West

Managing Director | Succession Plus

Craig West is a strategic accountant who has over 20 years’ experience advising business owners. His background as a CPA in public practice, provided invaluable experience in the key issues of concern to business owners. Following 6 years of study to gain two masters degrees, Craig focused on Capital Gains Tax (CGT) for business sales advising on strategic management of tax issues. This experience formed a very strong view that business owners (and often their advisers) were unprepared and unaware of the steps required to prepare a business for exit.

Craig now acts as a strategic mentor for mid-market business owners and has written four critically acclaimed books on employee incentives, succession planning, asset protection and exit strategies. Craig has conducted numerous seminars and keynote presentations throughout Australia & internationally, including adviser education programs for the Institute of Chartered Accountants and CPA Australia.

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