Employee stock ownership plans
Virtual stock option program for management (SAR)
For many years now, United Internet AG has operated a stock-based compensation plan which enables its managers to participate in the Company’s success and is aimed at enhancing staff loyalty. The plan takes the form of a virtual stock option program.
Virtual stock options, or Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs), refer to the commitment of United Internet AG to pay the beneficiary a cash amount equivalent to the difference between the share price on the date of granting the option and the share price on exercising the option. The exercise hurdle is 120% of the share price, which is calculated as the average closing price in electronic trading (Xetra) of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange over the ten days preceding issuance of the option. Payment of value growth to the entitled person is limited to 100% of the calculated share price when the virtual options were granted.
An SAR corresponds to a virtual subscription right for one share of United Internet AG. However, it is not a share right and thus not a (genuine) option to acquire shares of United Internet AG. United Internet AG retains the right to fulfill its commitment to pay the SAR in cash by also transferring United Internet AG shares from its stock of treasury shares to the beneficiary, at its own discretion. Employees may exercise their option rights after expiry of certain minimum retention periods. The increase in value represents a taxable gain for employees. The SARs have a maturity of no more than six years.
Option rights can be exercised as follows: up to 25% of the option right may be converted at the earliest 24 months after the date of issue of the option; up to 50% at the earliest 36 months after the date of issue of the option; a total of up to 75% may be exercised at the earliest 48 months after the date of issue of the option; the full amount may be exercised at the earliest 60 months after the date of issue of the option.
Stock-based compensation for employees
In addition to its long-standing employee stock ownership program for management, United Internet AG introduced a wide-ranging program for its employees in Germany in the fiscal year 2016, which ended in mid-2018.
The aim of the program was to
- involve employees more directly in the development of the Company and its share,
- raise staff motivation and performance,
- honor the loyalty of staff to the United Internet Group,
- and at the same time support the development of the Company.
Against this backdrop, the employee stock ownership program (“ESOP”) was designed in the form of a stock-based compensation plan. The program consisted of two components:
- Firstly, qualifying employees received the option to buy a specific number of shares in United Internet AG at a reduced price, which they then had to hold for a period of two years (vesting period).
- On completion of the vesting period, participants were granted further shares for free, provided they were still working for the Company – whereby employees of companies participating in “performance matching” received additional shares if certain pre-defined targets were reached.
Both the discounted acquisition of the shares and the free allocation of additional shares after the end of the vesting period represented a taxable benefit in kind.
Employees at international locations were offered a different (non-stock-based) incentive system for tax reasons.
Further details on employee stock ownership plans are provided in section 36 of the Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements.