Share vesting is the process by which a company gives its equity to its employees or consultants as a means to keep them with the company for a period of time and incentivise them to reach certain established performance goals. Share vesting is often used when a senior employee or an important advisor or consultant comes on board.
What is meant by share vesting?
Share vesting means the company gives its shares to an individual up front and the shares are subject to the company's right to buy them back. These shares are known as "unvested shares". The buyback right extinguishes over time (or upon fulfillment of certain conditions). The shares that are released from the buyback right are known as "vested shares". This mechanism is sometimes known as "reverse vesting", as opposed to the grant of a share option which is "forward vesting" (check out how a Share Option Plan works by clicking here).
Share vesting enables a senior employee or an important advisor to have equity immediately upon coming on board, but the company still retains control over those shares by way of a right to buy back and, in this way, the company keeps the employee or advisor on board until the end of the vesting period.
Step 1: Check your company's Articles of Association/Constitution
Check if the constitutional document of the company restricts buyback of its own shares. If it does, you may build in some appropriate mechanisms in your Share Vesting Agreement, or you may consider another form of rewarding your team (for example a Share Option Plan).
Step 2: Create a Share Vesting Agreement
Create and sign the Share Vesting Agreement. After signing, the following will take place:
- the employee/consultant pays for the shares on the "Purchase Date" that you set in the agreement;
- on the Purchase Date, the company secretary issues share certificates in the name of the employee/consultant and he then becomes a shareholder of the company. The numbers of the share certificates and the number of shares covered by each certificate should match the vesting schedule;
- the employee/consultant signs a document known as a "Share Power" and delivers this document to the company secretary;
- the company secretary keeps the share certificates in the name of the employee/consultant and the Share Power in escrow; and
- when shares are vested (i.e. released from the company's right to buy back) according to the terms of the Share Vesting Agreement, the share certificate in respect of that part of the shares will be delivered by the company secretary to the employee/consultant.
What is a Share Power?
A Share Power is a document in which the employee/consultant gives his authorisation to transfer his shares to the company and is only used if and when the company exercises the buyback right (which may or may not happen). Some information in the Share Power has to be left blank and can only to be filled in by the company when it exercises the buyback right.
Step 3: Exercise of the buyback right
If the employee/consultant leaves the company, any unvested shares will be subject to the company's right to buy back. (Note that the vested shares are not subject to buyback but may be subject to call option. See Step 4 below.)
The company may exercise its buyback right for three months from the date the employee/consultant leaves the company. The buyback right is deemed to be automatically exercised by the company upon expiry of the three-month period, unless the company notifies the employee/consultant that it does not intend to exercise the buyback right.
If and when the company exercises the buyback right, the company needs to pay the buyback price for the shares (which is the same price that the employee/consultant paid for the shares in the first place) to the employee/consultant, and the company secretary takes the necessary steps to make the transfer effective.
After the buyback, under Hong Kong and Singapore law, those shares will be regarded as canceled. Make sure the company secretary make the necessary filing with the Companies Registry/ACRA within the applicable statutory timeframe after the share buyback.
Step 4: Exercise of the call option
When creating the Share Vesting Agreement, you may opt for a "call option" to be put in place. This call option enables the company to do one of two things:
- buy back all vested shares at fair value; or
- convert all vested shares to non-voting shares (i.e. the employee/consultant, being the holder of the vested shares, can still receive dividends from the company but has no say in the decision-making of the company).
The company may exercise the call option for six months from the date the employee/consultant leaves the company.
The fair value of the shares is determined by the auditors of the company or an independent firm of accountants.
Share vesting is a very common way of keeping important personnel with a company, but it is not the only way. Check out how a Share Option Plan works and what the difference between a share option and share vesting is.