April 30, 2010
Volume 3, No.4
In this Issue:
Hitting the Accelerator
Webcast on May 18th - Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Easing the Turmoil of Stock Plan Transitions
Out and About
Plethora of Performance Plans
Product Spotlight: RSU Services and Solutions
SOS Across Our Desk
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RSU Best Practices: Rewards Simplified & Understood:
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A recorded demo of "Email Xpress", the SOS automated solution for emailing participant stock plan confirmations and statements, is now available:
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Hitting the Accelerator
I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for this article so I just sat down and started typing. That, in fact, helped me figure out what I wanted to share with you. Sometimes we need to just get started in order to get things done. That seems like a very obvious statement, but it's not always an easy thing to remember.
I attended an excellent conference this week. There was a lot of talk of the financial reform that may be coming soon, fascinating discussions about the US and world economy, and the future of equity compensation. A couple of the presentations were frightening and, quite frankly, made me start to wonder if we should be in a "sit and wait" mode until the government makes some more decisions, until the economy gets better, until companies decide what kinds of plans they want to offer...
THEN I heard words that rang true to my heart and where I like to be. WE should start moving forward!! The speaker's point was that we cannot expect somebody else to fix everything for us. Why are we waiting for somebody else to tell us what to do next? We should just start moving forward and creating the future.
Let's do just that! Let's keeping working together to drive our industry where it should be heading. Let's look ahead and help determine the direction equity compensation takes. These times, however uncertain they may seem, are exciting. I look forward to our future!
Marianne Snook, Principal
Stock & Option Solutions
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Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Easing the Turmoil of Stock Plan Transitions
May 18th, 2010
Click here to register.
Please join us for our next free webcast on May 18th at 11am Pacific Time, 2pm Eastern Time
In stock plans, as in life, change brings challenge. You face seemingly limitless roadblocks to success as you convert to a new system, effect a merger, upgrade your software, or implement a new plan, instrument, or equity grants in a new country.
From keeping up with your day job, to finding unexpected data issues, to dealing with systems with very different data structures, to updating your file feeds and getting your export formats just right, new obstacles present themselves every day.
Our expert panelist will give you real-world insight and pointers to help you get your next transition done on-time and under budget, whether a conversion, merger, upgrade or rollout.
Submit questions to our experts in advance by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(One hour of Certified Equity Professional continuing education credit is available for attending. See the CEPI website for more information on CEP continuing education requirements.)
SOS Out and About: Partner Webcast & Speaking Alerts
SOS is excited to announce our involvement in these upcoming industry events:
OptionEase Webcast, May 4th at 11am PDT
Financial Reporting v2.0 - A look at issues, challenges and opportunities
SVB Analytics - eProsper Webcast, May 19th at 10am PDT
Private Lives: Stock Option Expensing & Minimum Disclosure Requirements for Private Companies
Upcoming "Live" Appearances:
The Source 2010
May 11th-May 14th, 2010
Staying Ahead of the Curve: Emerging Best Practices in Equity Comp Accounting
Elizabeth Dodge, CEP, Stock & Option Solutions, Inc.
Terry Adamson, Radford Consulting
Crystallizing Your Stock Plan Data
Elizabeth Dodge, CEP, Stock & Option Solutions, Inc.
Joseph F. Purdy Jr., CEP, Transcentive
Lori Drenkhahn, Transcentive
Refining Restricted: Cleaning Up Restricted Stock Awards and Restricted Stock Units
Elizabeth Dodge, CEP, Stock & Option Solutions, Inc.
Jennifer Tardif, CEP, Transcentive
A Plethora of Performance Plans
Performance plans have been getting attention ever since Topic 718 (nee 123R) "leveled the playing field" for their accounting treatment starting in 2006. However, it seems that SOSers can't pick up the phone these days without getting another question about performance plans. How do they work? How do you enter them into my software? How do you account for them?
This article will review some of the basics of performance shares and will also delve a little into some of the "more unique" features of and questions about these plans we've been seeing of late.
(This article, to avoid becoming a book, will focus on restricted stock and restricted stock units with performance criteria, which are currently the most common type of performance vehicle for US-based corporations. If you're interested in performance stock options, drop us a line, we're happy to answer questions or write a follow-up article.)
Where and why we started...accounting...
While I promised my editor not to make this yet another article on accounting, we can't really talk about performance shares without a little accounting review. As alluded to above, Topic 718 removed the unpredictable variable accounting treatment for performance awards that had long made them anathema to CFOs and comp committees around the country. Performance grants are now valued on grant date, much like employee stock options, restricted stock and RSU grants, which makes the expense much more predictable (sometimes absolutely fixed) and therefore much more palatable and now popular. (Though I'd argue the playing field is still not quite "level", for performance-based awards but we'll get to that shortly.)
However, there is one significant difference the way you accrue for these grants remains, nearly regardless of the type of goal: accrual is generally done tranche-by-tranche (sometimes called FIN 28 or accelerated accrual). If you have two vesting tranches one with a one-year service period and one with a two-year service period, you start accruing for both tranches on the grant date and accrue over one year for the first tranche and two years for the second tranche, which means that the majority of the expense for the grant is recognized in the first year. Straight-line accrual is not a choice as it is with other types of vehicles. Though, as with everything about performance grants, there are exceptions to this rule, some of which we will discuss later.
Two main "types": Market-based and Not...
While there are limitless variations on the theme of performance awards, there are two basic types of metrics (or "goals") associated with these grants that classify these awards for accounting purposes. The first type is a market-based metric; basically any metric reliant on share price, including TSR and/or relative TSR goals. The second type is a performance-based metric which is the catch-all for almost any goal not related to or dependent on share price, including revenue, EBITDA, EPS, etc.
Market-based awards are valued using a complicated option-pricing model, such as a Monte Carlo simulation. Generally outside valuation consultants are engaged to build these models based on the specific attributes of the awards. The good news is that once the valuation is complete, the work is done. No adjustments are made to expense from that point on. The expense is accrued over the service period. (Service periods can be a complicated topic for performance awards as well, but I will not delve into them here.) Even if the goal is never achieved, the expense is not reversed. The probability that the goal will not be achieved is "baked into" the valuation model, so the grant-date fair value already reflects the possibility of forfeiture due to targets being missed. Some companies have balked at this treatment. "You mean we have to expense it even if the employee gets no benefit?" But we at SOS are quick to point out the similarities to a regular employee stock option. Seen any options expire underwater lately? Same thing...keep the expense, no employee benefit realized...Terry Adamson of Radford Valuation Services says "I call this the 'glass is half-empty' argument, but note that the 'glass is half-full argument' says that even if we outperform and pay out at greater than target (i.e. 200%), then no additional expense accruals are necessary. Ultimately, it creates very fixed and level expense."
Market-based awards are valued using a complicated option-pricing model, such as a Monte Carlo simulation. Generally outside valuation consultants are engaged to build these models based on the specific attributes of the awards. The good news is that once the valuation is complete, the work is done. No adjustments are made to expense from that point on. The expense is accrued over the service period. (Service periods can be a complicated topic for performance awards as well, but I promise not to delve into them here.) Even if the goal is never achieved, the expense is not reversed. The probability that the goal will not be achieved is "baked into" the valuation model, so the grant-date fair value already reflects that possibility. Some companies have balked at this treatment. "You mean we have to expense it even if the employee gets no benefit?" But we at SOS are quick to point out the similarities to a regular employee stock option. Seen any options expire underwater lately? Same thing...keep the expense, no employee benefit realized...Terry Adamson of Radford Valuation Services says "I call this the "glass is half-empty" argument, but note that the "glass is half-full argument" says that even if we outperform and pay out at greater than target (i.e. 200%), then no additional expense accruals are necessary. Ultimately, it creates very fixed and level expense."
Performance-based awards are valued using the market value on the grant date, just like regular restricted stock and restricted stock units. Nice and simple, right? Not so fast! each quarter you accrue based on the probable payout at that time. So if you originally estimated that you'd pay out 200% of the base shares, let's say 20,000 shares, you'd accrue for 20,000 shares for the first few quarters. Then something goes terribly wrong and beginning in the 1st quarter of the grant's two-year life, you believe that no shares will be paid out, you'd reverse all the expense previously booked for the award and stop booking expense until your expectations change. The reverse is also true. You might start out booking expense for 10,000 shares and suddenly your employees begin to knock the proverbial ball out of the proverbial park and you're now headed for 200% payout. You'd perform a cumulative catch-up for the new estimate in the quarter in which the estimated payout changes. This is where I argue that the unpredictability of performance shares is not truly gone, therefore the playing field is still slightly slanted. However, the silver lining is that you do know, at the outset, the maximum amount of expense that will be required. I'm sure that helps your CFO get to sleep at night. Okay, I'm done with accounting, I promise...
Okay, I'm done with accounting, I promise...
On to some of the types of designs we've seen:
Shades of gray
Many of the plans we have seen have multiple payout points, meaning that depending on to what extent the target is met, the awards will pay out more, or fewer shares. So if the goal were to achieve EPS of $4 per shares, if goal were partially met, perhaps EPS of $3.50 per share, the award would still pay out a pre-determined amount, as long as a minimum threshold is met. A very simplified design might look something like this:
|$3.49 or below
|$3.50 to $3.99
|$4.00 to $4.50
|$4.50 and above
If the goal is performance-based, this type of award must be reassessed each quarter to determine the probable payout so that accruals can be performed appropriately.
All your eggs in one basket
However, some plans we've seen of late have an "all or nothing" design. The payout is 0% or 100%. If the goal is achieved, total shares are paid, if not, no shares are paid. While these are easier to administer on some levels, Terry points out "In my opinion, this is hard to rationalize as cliff payouts create risk, and incents to manipulate numbers or focus on short-term goals rather than long-term goals." But Brett Harsen, of Radford Consulting, counters: "One rationale for these kinds of plans is that the metric used may lend itself to a single cliff-vest event. For example, you often see 100% '"on/off' switches in plans using product milestones. For example - the first time 1,000 units ship you vest... If you don't do it by X date they expire. Another reason is that it simplifies admin and communication of the plan. Finally, some companies may have trouble setting reasonable goals and simply can't graduate a payout curve any further."
While many performance shares do have cliff vesting at the end of one, two, or three years associated with a single target, more and more awards these days seem to have multiple vest tranches and a different goal associated with each. The first tranche has a one-year goal, the second a two-year goal and so on. The design advantage year is facilitating earlier payouts, more like options or RSUs, while providing short- and long-term motivation. However, as Brett points out: "The more graduated the awards are, the more difficult design and goal setting (as you have to set more goals) and it makes the plan more complex to administer and explain to participants."
Do they qualify for 162(m) if there is no chance of forfeiture?
Just recently we ran across a performance share plan that would vest, in part, whether or not even a minimum threshold goal was achieved. The idea was to combine the best parts of an RSU (always-in-the-money, guaranteed payout, employee retention) with the shareholder-friendly aspects of a performance award. However, the wrinkle here is that the guaranteed part of these grants will not be considered performance-based for the purposes of exclusion from the $1M cap on tax deductibility under 162(m). For the large chip company in question, that apparently wasn't a concern. However, for others it is likely to be a bigger issue. Keep in mind that this is only a concern for profitable companies and only for their NEOs.
What's in a name?
One of my personal pet peeves about performance shares are the crazy, creative, crafty names that companies have a way of coming up with OSUs are a recent favorite standing for "Outperformance Share Units", or MSUs for Market Stock Units, or PBRSUs for Performance-based Restricted Stock Units or simply PA's for Performance Awards or PU's for Performance Units. But really, coining and using your own terms for these sorts of grants is likely to cause more confusion than anything else. What are they? How do they work? Which tax treatment do they receive? If you use one of the more "industry-standard" terms such as PSA or PSU, those questions can be easily answered, for both your shareholders and your participants.
2nd Chance Shares
At least a couple of plans we've seen recently included a feature that allows shares to be earned even after the initial service period is over. For example the first tranche has a one-year target and service period, but even if the goal was not achieved within the one-year period, the employees could still earn the shares as long as the goal was achieved before the grant expired three years after the grant date. This type of design has the advantage of continuing to motivate employees even after an initial target is missed and is relatively simple to administer and account for. The expense can still be accrued over the one-year service period unless there is no likelihood of attaining the goal over that period. And administratively you would simply not release the shares until the goal is achieved. Some softwares and systems will now support this type of design with relative ease. We've seen this referred to as a "clawback" or "catch up" provision, but we have coined the term 2nd Second Chance Shares for this feature, which we think expresses the design more effectively.
Brett says out that most of the plans he's seen with these designs give you a chance to recoup only a portion of the original shares if the original target date is not met, though that is not consistent with what I've seen of late.
Time after time...
Another twist we've encountered is the application of time-based vesting being layered on top of the performance goal. The target is achieved within a year but the employee must remain employed for an additional year or two in order to finally earn the shares. Terry explains that "With multiple vesting criteria that all are required to be achieved ("and" conditions), then the requisite service period represents the longer of the explicit service period, the derived service period, and the implicit service period."
Keeping to the straight-and narrow
As I mentioned above, generally these plans are accounted for using FIN 28 or "accelerated" accrual. The exception to this rule applies when the setting of the goal cannot be completed until a subsequent tranche has vested. In that case the "service inception" date of the subsequent tranche cannot begin until the previous service period is complete. For example, goals for certain internal performance metrics (i.e. EPS or other) are easier to set after each prior year when you have more knowledge about the prior year performance. Therefore you end up with a version of straight-line accrual rather than the accelerated approach. However, many systems cannot support this approach for performance awards. There are workarounds to attain this end, but these awards are definitely trickier to administer for the present.
Beware of Good Leavers
Watch out for designs that pay out shares to terminating or retiring employees despite the fact that the performance goal was not or will not be achieved. Not only are you giving a better deal to employees that are leaving than to those remaining on board, but these types of provisions also cause issues under 162(m).
Relatives are fun...Relative goals that is...
Relative goals seem to be on the uptake as well and they make a lot of sense to many of us. If the market is down but your company is outperforming its peers, shouldn't your employees still be rewarded? And if your company's market value is up, but that's not due to any excellence on your part but simply because every company's stock is gaining due to some new wave of irrational exuberance, should the employees profit from that? Relative goals put all this in perspective.
"There are not many relative plans based on operational metrics. They are almost always based on TSR/stock price. Further, Relative TSR is infinitely transparent to shareholders and plan participants alike. They remove subjectivity in determining performance against plan because they are formulaic. If you use revenue on the other hand, the Board often has to make subjective calls about removing extraordinary items or how to adjust for a spin or M&A." says Brett.
Choosing your peer companies can be the trickiest part of these relative plans. And do be sure that the plan delineates what should happen if a peer no longer exists at the end of the performance period, either due to an acquisition or a bankruptcy.
Shareholder Watchdog Groups
Per Brett, shareholder watchdog groups are now starting to push companies to use only GAAP numbers in their PSU targets. This way they can "double check" the numbers versus payout. Removing the subjectivity noted above makes the payout determination process less of a black box.
Administrative Suggestions and Solutions
The administration of performance plans, as you may have sensed, is generally more challenging than the plain vanilla options and RSUs which the equity compensation world is now used to. But with a few tricks up your sleeve you can make even the oddest performance plans manageable.
I set out to write a short article on some of the types of performance designs we're seeing in the industry today. Unfortunately "short" is not a goal I attained, perhaps I should forfeit our performance shares payout for this article.
If you have questions on performance awards, their design, taxation, accounting consequences or really anything else, feel free to drop me a line. I'm always happy to hear from our readers.
- Upgrade your software
We're not suggesting that you switch systems or change vendors, but if you are working with an older version of your in-house software, contemplate an upgrade. Many of the softwares have been or are being enhanced to handle performance shares much more effectively and these enhancements are worth their weight in gold. Getting your data out of spreadsheets and into a database is likely to make everyone's life better, even if some workarounds are still required to perfect the tracking of the grants.
- Keep an eye on your plan balances
If you're working with a system that doesn't track "granted" and "maximum" payout amounts separately, keep a close eye on plan balances. Before every new grant of any type is made, be sure to run a plan balance report, calculate the number of performance shares that would pay out if the maximum payout was achieved. Communicate with a summary of this information to management and HR on a regular basis and be sure that they acknowledge receipt and understanding. The last thing you need is to run out of plan shares because a performance target was unexpectedly met and you have the unenvied role of letting management know. Guess where the blame is likely to fall? Not on those that designed the 200% payout plan...
- Continue vesting during leaves of absence
If you have any influence in the design of the plan, suggest that for performance shares vesting not be suspended for leaves of absence. Administratively this can be challenging to track and get right and it's also very difficult to communicate to your participants.
- Countdown to assessment
If you have performance-based shares, as the end of each quarter draws near, start communicating with the person/people that will be responsible for the assessment of "probability" of the attainment of goals early. Quarter end is hectic for everyone and you want to make sure you've made the assessment requirement visible to your team as early as possible so that it's not a last-minute rush to get the assessment completed.
- Document measurement steps
Be sure to carefully document exactly how the goal will the measured, if you plan doesn't already do this for you. Some companies have run into issues with goals because different groups were "counting" the goal differently - using non-GAAP measures to assess revenue for example. If the metric is financial, make sure that your finance group is involved in the documentation of the measurement process.
- Set goals at time of grant (courtesy of Barbara Baksa, Executive Director of the NASPP)
If the awards are granted but the terms are not specifically defined until sometime later, you won't have "a grant date" for accounting purposes and you'll need variable accounting until the specific terms of the grant are set.
Thanks to Terry Adamson and Brett Harsen, both of Radford Consulting, for their review of and significant contributions to this article.
Elizabeth Dodge, CEP, Vice President
Stock & Option Solutions
Elizabeth is the Vice President of Product Management for Stock & Option Solutions, Inc. (SOS). Her responsibilities include monitoring new developments in the equity compensation arena, performing market research, speaking at industry events and helping to define the product roadmap for SOS.
Elizabeth regularly speaks on industry trends and product development at client and industry events including NASPP and NCEO webcasts, GEO and NASPP Chapter meetings, and the NASPP Annual Conference. She was also selected to speak at the West Coast FASB Roundtable on FAS 123(R) and has recently co-authored the chapter on accounting for equity compensation in The Stock Options Book, 11th edition, by Alisa Baker. She became a Certified Equity Professional in 1999 and continues to volunteer for the Certified Equity Professional Institute. She also volunteers for the Silicon Valley Chapter of the NASPP and serves on the Board of Directors of the NCEO.
The attendance and response to last week's webcast, "Best Practices for RSUs: Rewards Simplified & Understood", was
the largest we've ever seen. This month's Product Spotlight will focus on the myriad ways we have assisted our clients who
utilize RSUs in their equity compensation program.
Our line of RSU solutions and services will simplify your life, save you time and reduce your company's risk by streamlining
your processes, assisting with compliance with accounting standards and tax regulations, and easing participant communication.
For a more detailed explanation of these products and services, please view the RSU Services and Solutions page on our website.
Do you have issues with participant communications? Are you buried under piles of paper confirmations?
Do you participants understand and value their RSUs? Do they take the necessary steps to activate their
brokerage accounts before a vesting/release? Our solultions can help!
Stock Plan Personnel Training
- SOS Email Xpress can turn manual mailing of statements into
effortless emails. Confirmations of Release, Year-end Tax Summaries, Pre-vesting Notifications, and
customized Award Agreements can be mailed to hundreds or thousands of participants with just a few clicks.
- Award Agreements / Participant Statements
can be customized and run within your in-house software. Allows you to better control
the message to participants reducing participant confusion and avoiding the feeling of "out of the money" RSUs.
- Prepare a wide range of roll-out or ongoing communications beyond grant agreements and presentations.
May include FAQs, cover letters, email text, explanations of tax treatment at retirement eligibility, supplemental
materials to assist in accessing brokerage accounts, etc.
- RSU Grant Acceptance: We can tailor our grant acceptance website to your plan and specific requirements to
allow your participants to view and accept their grants online.
- Our suite of Participant Education products can be customized to the features of your plan to help domestic and
international participants understand RSU basics, the finer points of taxation, and how to appreciate and receive
their valuable stock plan RSU benefits. Formats can include live and onsite, webcasts, and/or recorded webcasts.
- Participant Call Centers: Whether your RSU plan is new, or you are trying to find better ways to handle the flood of participant inquiries around your largest vest dates. We can establish a dedicated call center staffed by equity compensation experts trained in the specifics of your plan to provide your participants with the answers they need. Email support can also be included. And the centers can be scaled up or down based on the needs of your company.
Customized to the features of your plan to help your staff understand RSU basic and advanced topics.
RSU Basics session includes: Administration, global taxation (withholding/reporting requirements for US and non-US locations), dividends, common issues, tax payment methods.
Our Advanced RSU Issues session can include accounting for RSUs, retirement eligibility, diluted/basic EPS treatment,
deferrals, fungible share pools, tax accounting, IFRS 2, and mobility issues.
Formats include live / onsite or webcasts/conference calls.
Process Improvement / Automation
No matter which of the RSU challenges causes you and your company the most headaches, we have the services and solutions to help.
Software and Tools
Process Improvements / Best Practices Assessment
- Current Process Review: provides a preliminary, cost-effective review of tax treatment in the jurisdictions in which you currently grant RSUs and your current compliance level.
- Due Diligence Review / Feasibility Analysis: provides preliminary, cost-effective review of tax treatments in jurisdictions you are considering beginning to grant RSUs.
- Tax Withholding Review: reviews your current tax payment methods in various jurisdictions in regard to compliance with local law. Identify areas that may trigger unintended accounting consequences (such as liability treatment for share withholding).
- Mobility Tracking: provides preliminary review of current process for tracking participant movement and recommend process changes/ improvements to attain higher level of compliance.
SOS Across Our Desk: Equity Compensation in the News...
Financial Reform and Equity Compensation
A look at how the financial reform legislation wending its way through Congress would affect equity compensation...Groups urge Congress not to weaken SOX.
Option Backdating...we bring you at least one every month
Details on a settlement in another backdating case...A nice round up of backdating stories from the NASPP blog here.
Nearly a majority of US Execs favor early IFRS adoption...The other half are presumably within this group...Interesting discussion of technical considerations for converting to IFRS.
Advantages & Disadvantages...
Of net-exercised options and/or stock-settled SARS from the Compensation Committee Corner. Though we have a list of issues that were not covered...email us for more info.
Frederic W. Cook & Co. reviews the key developments of 2009, and what to look forward to in 2010.
More RSU Stuff
The NASPP had a nice two part blog on RSUs and your general ledger here and here.
Odds & Sods
Data on blackout periods...Story on the Ninth Circuit's rejection of IRS effort to require cost sharing of employee stock options...Something we can all agree on: Everybody hates performance reviews
The First Saturday in May
SOS Über Consultant Apollo Mok announces his remedy for the underwater option blues: a bet on this horse in tomorrow's Kentucky Derby.
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...tender tidbits about people and players in our industry...
SOS' Lindsey Youdan is expecting a baby boy to join her growing family on May 21st. Keep coming back to Xpose for an announcement on his birth. We look forward to seeing him at the SOS Holiday Party, usually held in August...Amberly Fullmer, CEP, of E*Trade Corporate Services had a 8lb. 8oz. baby girl, Ryley Ruth, on February 26th. Congratulations Amberly!
Anne Silver of Equinix sold her house in San Carlos, and is enjoying the new condo she bought in San Mateo (even more so because they finally got all their furniture moved in!). Congratulations, Anne.
On the Move...Achaessa James, CEP, has recently joined the NCEO to consolidate and guide the expansion of their equity compensation resources for private and public companies. Congratulations Achaessa!
Ace Coach...Bruce Brumberg (Editor-in-Chief, myStockOptions.com) is carving time out of his schedule to coach a high school tennis team this spring. Good luck, Bruce!
Happy Mother's Day!
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