Should ESOP Plans Include Liquidity Options for Employees, and If Yes, When and How?

Written By:
Team Qapita
September 20, 2023

Unlocking Employee Stock Options (ESOPs) with Liquidity

Employee Stock Options (ESOPs) have become indispensable tools for private companies seeking to attract, retain, and reward their workforce. These options empower employees by allowing them to acquire company shares at a predetermined price, typically below market rates.

However, a significant drawback to ESOPs is their inherent lack of liquidity. Employees often face the challenge of being unable to easily convert their ESOP holdings into cash until the company goes public or undergoes an acquisition. This liquidity constraint can be particularly problematic for employees with immediate financial needs, such as buying a home or funding education.

Recent years have witnessed a promising shift in this landscape. Private companies are increasingly addressing this liquidity shortfall by offering pathways for employees to access the value of their ESOPs. Various methods are employed, including selling shares to existing or new investors and buying back shares from employees.

Why the Transition to ESOP Liquidity?

Several compelling reasons underpin the transition toward ESOP liquidity:

1. Motivation and Engagement: ESOP liquidity provides employees with the prospect of eventually cashing out their holdings, enhancing their motivation and engagement. It aligns their interests with the company's overall success.

2. Retention: Liquidity options reduce employee turnover. When employees can sell their ESOPs for a profit, they are more inclined to remain with their current employer, rather than seeking opportunities elsewhere.

3. Equity Distribution: Offering liquidity through ESOPs fosters a fairer ownership structure within the company. It ensures that all employees have the opportunity to share in the company's growth, fostering a more committed and motivated workforce.

Two Paths to ESOP Liquidity

Companies can facilitate ESOP liquidity for their employees through two primary methods:

1. External Funding: This approach involves selling shares to existing or new investors. Employees often prefer this method as it offers a transparent and fair valuation of their shares.

2. Internal Funding: In this scenario, the company buys back shares from employees or compensates employees who surrender their options. While viable, employees may find this method less appealing, as it can deplete the company's cash reserves and impact its financial performance.

Leading the Way: Pioneering Companies

Forward-thinking private companies have wholeheartedly embraced the concept of providing liquidity to their employees through ESOPs. This trend is poised to persist as companies increasingly recognize the manifold benefits it brings.

Here are some prominent private companies that have recently empowered their employees with ESOP liquidity:

  • Flipkart
  • Oyo
  • Swiggy
  • PharmEasy
  • Ola
  • Unacademy
  • MPL
  • Zerodha
  • FirstCry
  • BharatPe
  • Urban Company
  • Meesho
  • Razorpay
  • Moglix

The Future of ESOP Liquidity

The trend of private companies providing liquidity to their employees through ESOPs is set to endure, driven by several factors:

  • The surging popularity of ESOPs as a compensation tool
  • Heightened demand for liquidity from employees
  • Increased availability of capital from investors willing to invest in private companies

In summary, providing liquidity to employees through ESOPs is a forward-thinking practice that not only motivates and retains employees but also fosters a more equitable ownership structure within the company. It's a win-win strategy that benefits both employees and their employers.

Team Qapita

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