EQUITY COMPENSATION: Definition, Types and Examples

Equity Compensation
Image source: MYRA Wealth

Many public corporations and some private ones, especially start-ups, offer equity compensation as a reward. As a matter of fact, businesses even have equity compensation plans. It’s a tactic that freshly founded organizations might use to attract top personnel. These companies could not have the funds or might opt to use their cash flow to fund expansion plans. Whether they are start-ups or more established firms, technology companies have always used equity pay to reward their staff. We’ll look at a good number of things pertaining to equity compensation from various types to its plans, and even private equity.

What is Equity Compensation?

Equity compensation is a type of non-cash compensation that employees may receive. Investment vehicles like options, restricted stock, and performance shares can all be incorporated into equity compensation. They all give workers ownership in the business. It gives workers a way to share in the company’s profits through appreciation. It also increases employee retention, particularly if vesting procedures are in place. A wage below the market rate could occasionally come with stock compensation.

The likelihood of making money after getting stock compensation is never guaranteed. In comparison to equity compensation, getting paid a salary can be advantageous if you know exactly what you’re getting (or in conjunction with equity pay). Numerous things could have an effect on your equity compensation.

Why Use Equity Compensation?

One of the key advantages of equity-based pay is that it offers financial benefits for both the employer and the employee. It makes it possible for businesses to provide their employees with more benefits without negatively affecting their bottom line, which is fantastic for both the company and the employee. Other advantages of equity compensation

  • Help attract and retain talent: Even when they don’t have a lot of cash on hand, newly established small enterprises can use it to give employees a portion of their potential. This is primarily to ensure their continued financial stability.
  • More alignment is attained: The alignment of business objectives with employee values benefits employers.
  • Reduced absenteeism is attained: Since their pay is based on their performance, employees work harder and are more productive.
  • Improves employee engagement: Because they are employee-owners and frequently have a substantial influence on the direction of the company through shareholder voting, employees are more inclined to develop a spirit of collaboration.
  • Receiving tax benefits: There are several permitted schemes that permit tax advantages for both the employer and the employee, such as qualified ESPPs and ESOPs.
  • Aid in controlling cash flow: The amount paid out in cash is reduced by equity compensation, which is helpful for companies with limited cash flow.

Issues with employee compensation equity may arise

Although stock compensation is popular across many industries, its greatest disadvantage is frequently noted as being complexity.

  • There are several reporting and regulatory requirements. This includes numerous regions of jurisdiction and tax laws that apply to equity compensation.
  • The design of the plan, which includes participant eligibility, vesting schedule, equity distribution amount, and plan term, also necessitates a lot of work and thought.
  • Additionally, it might increase the amount of work already being done by your existing departments in charge of managing equity plans. This includes tracking and reporting ownership changes, and revising documents, policies, and procedures. It also extends to speaking with stakeholders, liaising with your board of directors, and ensuring compliance.

Types of Equity Compensation

If this is your first time getting equity compensation, it could be challenging to get acclimated to the language. The four types of equity compensation you are most likely to meet are incentive stock options (ISOs), non-qualified stock options (NSOs), restricted stock or restricted stock units (RSUs), and employee stock purchase programs (ESPPs) (ESPPs).

#1. Incentive Stock Options (ISOs)

ISOs, one of the two main types of stock options, may be especially tempting because of their favorable tax treatment. Instead of being instantly issued business shares with ISOs, you are first given the possible chance—or “option”—to buy shares at a predetermined price at a later time. The “strike price” or “exercise price” is the predetermined price at which you can purchase shares, and the “grant date” is the day on which you receive the options.

The majority of the time, options have a vesting schedule that outlines a number of dates on which you can choose to exercise your option to purchase business shares. However, even though the option exercise is disregarded for regular income tax purposes, the difference between the price you paid for the shares and the stock’s fair market value on the date of exercise must be included in your alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI), and you may be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

#2. Non-qualified stock options (NSOs)

Despite the fact that nonqualified stock options (NSOs) may not offer the same tax advantages as ISOs, they can nonetheless greatly enhance your pay package. Similar to the aforementioned ISOs, NSOs allow you the option to purchase company stock at a predetermined price in accordance with a vesting schedule. While NSOs and ISOs may function similarly, there are significant tax differences between the two. The difference between the option exercise price and the stock’s fair market value at the time of exercise, which is viewed as compensatory income, exposes stockholders to income and payroll taxes under NSOs. It is also included with your taxable wages on your Form W-2 for the year of exercise.

#3. Restricted Stock Shares and Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Under a traditional restricted stock plan, a company gives actual shares of stock to an employee; however, even though the employee has voting rights and usually gets dividend payments, the stock is nontransferable and subject to forfeiture until the shares vest. The vesting schedule may be based on graded vesting or cliff vesting, similar to options. Conditions that demand the accomplishment of particular corporate or employee performance goals will often be included.

Instead of immediately issuing shares of stock, several corporations offer restricted stock units (RSUs). Prior to vesting, RSUs are just an unfunded promise to issue shares in the future; the employee is not eligible to exercise voting rights over the shares or collect dividends during this time (although some plans do provide for dividend equivalent payments). Furthermore, neither RSUs nor restricted stock is subject to taxation at the time of grant. However, you’ll recognize the full fair market value of the shares as compensation income at the time of vesting and is consequently subject to federal income tax and payroll tax withholding.

#4. Employee Stock Purchase Plans (ESPPs)

A qualified employee stock purchase plan, or ESPP, enables payroll deductions for the purchase of company stock by employees. In contrast to stock options, the shares you buy through an ESPP come at a predetermined discount, frequently between 5% and 15% less than the company’s market price. Better yet, some plans contain a “look back” provision that bases the purchase price on the lower stock price at the beginning of the offering period or the end of the purchase term, locking in the employee’s most favorable pricing for the duration of the plan.

To receive the most tax benefits from the ESPP, the holding time requirements for a “qualified disposition,” which call for maintaining the shares for at least two years following the offering date and one year following the date of purchase, must typically be met.

Private Equity Compensation

An example of a pooled investment vehicle is private equity (PE) firm, which gathers capital from other funds, institutions, wealthy individuals, and other sources to invest in privately held businesses. They convince owners of assets to make investments with them and demand a fee in return for managing and growing these assets. PE firms provide a vibrant intellectual environment that stresses carefully and methodically analyzing assets.

Private equity salaries are a significant consideration for those considering a departure to the buy-side. In this article, we’ll analyze the pay scales for people working in investment banking and private equity starting at the associate level.

Average Salaries by Private Equity Level

The aforementioned graphic displays the typical private equity salary ranges. We did not include managing directors’ (MDs’) and principals’ compensation information since, generally speaking, pay becomes less transparent as one moves up the organizational structure.

Private Equity Salary vs Investment Banking Salary

Since the typical private equity associate has one to two years of investment banking experience, the majority of private equity businesses pay above the average compensation in investment banking.

Many professionals switch from advisory to private equity for a variety of reasons, including the higher salary, slightly fewer hours, and the opportunity to work on the buy-side (investment rather than advisory).

Equity Compensation Plans

When it comes to equity compensation plans, they are practical and flexible tools for a wide range of organizations. From budding startups to well-established companies, every company has equity compensation plans. Now, coming down to the uses, businesses can use equity compensation plans to draw in new talent and also to motivate employees to meet performance targets. It also commends long-tenured employees and retains staff members. An organization may employ an equity compensation plan to give someone a share in the business instead of paying them in cash. The best format for a given organization will depend on its unique circumstances and objectives; these plans are available in a range of formats.

Here is a quick rundown of the top five equity compensation plans

#1. Stock Option Plans

The first on our list of equity compensation plans is the Stock option. A stock option plan guarantees equity at a specific price at a later date, frequently after fulfilling particular criteria. An option gives holders the opportunity to purchase a set number of shares at a fixed price after a while.

Business owners should make stock option plans one of the considerations before establishing their company since they are particularly attractive to startups that typically lack the funds to recruit and retain top talent to support the organization’s growth. There are various drawbacks to using stock option plans. The biggest one is the likelihood that option holders will exercise their options. This might dilute the amount of stock that other shareholders now own. The main one is the option holder’s lack of liquidity in comparison to cash bonuses or higher cash compensation. In stock option schemes, you can use any or all of the language below;

  • Preferred selection.
  • A contract for stock options.
  • Shareholder agreement

#2. Restricted  share unit plans (RSU Plans)

Rather than actual shares, restricted share units are distributed to participants in an RSU plan. The market value of the common shares of the awarding corporation fluctuates, affecting how much the RSUs are worth. The plan member thereafter receives the shares underlying the RSUs in accordance with a vesting schedule after fulfilling certain conditions. A simple example is continuing to work for the company for a certain amount of time. You’ll find the following terms in RSU Plans:

  • Administration
  • Reserved Shares Pending Issue.
  • RSU Grant Agreement.

#3. Share Appreciation Right Plans (SAR Plans)

Participants in SAR Plans receive share appreciation rights from the corporation. Participants in each SAR are eligible to receive the difference between the award date and the vesting date, when the SARs have vested, in the market value of the corporation’s shares.

#4. Deferred share unit plans (DSU Plans)

Deferred share unit plans can be used to prolong paying directors of the granting corporation their compensation if the plan is appropriately arranged so that the rules for salary deferral arrangements under the Income Tax Act do not apply. This is because they will only be taxed on the DSUs in the year in which they are settled, rather than the year in which they were granted.

#5. Plans for deferred and restricted shares

Participants in deferred share plans and restricted share plans receive free shares from the company. However, the shares are conditionally awarded and are only made available to the participant once the condition is satisfied. The selection criteria could be time-based, performance-based, or both. These kinds of programs are uncommon in Canada. This is because participants in Canada frequently pay taxes on their prizes at the time of delivery.

What are two examples of equity-based compensation?

Employees may receive non-cash remuneration such as performance shares, restricted stock, and options.

What is the most commonly used form of equity compensation?

The most popular type of equity compensation is stock options.

How Do You Calculate Equity Compensation?

The formula is based on two factors, which are as follows: Total Compensation Public Company = Base + Any Bonuses + RSUs. The unknown specifically refers to the stock component. Total Private Comp is calculated as Base + Bonuses + Future “Value” of Options.

Why is equity compensation important?

Equity remuneration, especially if there are vesting restrictions, can help retain staff by allowing them to participate in the company’s earnings through appreciation.

Is equity the same as salary?

A technique for enhancing a company’s cash flow is equity compensation. The employee receives a portion of the company in lieu of a pay. Equity remuneration is subject to conditions, including the employee’s initial lack of return.

When can you cash out equity compensation?

At the moment it vests, an employee acquires all rights to their equity. When this happens depends on each individual’s equity in a compensation arrangement with their employer. Once someone has complete ownership of their equity, they can choose to cash out by selling their share of the company back to their employer.

How much equity should I give to employees?

The majority of startups limit the percentage of total ownership held by employees to between 10 and 20 percent. But how much growth you want to achieve over the following 18 months will depend on a variety of things, including the stage of development your business is in. Generally speaking, to maintain stability, it’s recommended to keep it below 20%.

Should I take equity or salary?

Generally speaking, equity will be provided for anything beyond your cash baseline. There is nothing wrong if you are at a moment in your career where you value current income (compensation) over the potential for future returns (equity).

Is equity considered a bonus?

Instead of cash, equity is used to provide performance bonuses. gives employees a financial incentive to achieve performance targets while reducing the amount of money the organization spends.

Is equity compensation taxable?

Your taxes can become a little trickier once you start earning equity-based pay.


While there are no rules pertaining to how organizations manage their employees, employee turnover is important. Therefore, businesses use it to not just get employees but to motivate and retain their ideal workforce.

Equity Compensation FAQs

How does equity compensation work in a private company?

Employee equity pay plans are essentially contracts that give workers ownership of their employers. Employees are given stock options or stock grants to enable them to purchase a specified number of shares at a predetermined price over a specified period of time.

What is an equity adjustment in salary?

Any employee whose position is classified under the position classification plan may have their compensation adjusted to any rate within their salary group range in order to maintain equitable payment connections.

  1. 401(a): Understanding What a 401(a) Plan Is With Ease
  2. 403(b) vs 401(k): Which Is The Better Plan? (+ Pros And Cons)
  3. Fund Accounting: Definition, Basics, Salary, Jobs (+Quick Guide)
  4. Resource Management: Definition, Importance, and Planning
  5. Vesting Period: Meaning, How It Works, and Benefits


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like