NZX-listed companies gifting shares as employee incentives

It’s out with free fruit and biscuits – shares are now becoming the latest gift some employers are using to retain staff in the tight labour market.

Four NZX-listed companies have partnered with retail investment platform Sharesies to give away shares in their own business to workers.

Next week employees in Just Life Group will get $50 worth of shares in the company deposited into a Sharesies account.

Employees will also get the option to have $10 deducted from their pay each fortnight which will go into the account, and can be invested anywhere, and which Just Life will top up with a 10 per cent subsidy.

Tony Falkenstein, Just Life chief executive, said it got a quote for setting up a legal share scheme from the lawyers and it was going to cost $10,000 for a 10 page document.

“We though we have got 150 staff, give them all $50 that is only $7500 and they understand it a lot better.”

Falkenstein said it was one of the ideas it came up with as part of a plan to retain staff.

So far 70 staff had opted to take up the shares but it would also offer them again every quarter.

Falkenstein said the extra incentive was to start encouraging staff to become share investors.

“We are going to run seminars for them on the sharemarket and what it all means so they really start understanding what being just a public company means.”

Staff members could sell the shares in the company and invest the money elsewhere if they wanted to.

“They can do what they like. We just have to keep the share price going up.”

Gus Watson, head of investment at Sharesies, said there was a lot of appetite from companies to do employee share schemes.

“The whole access to the sharemarket piece has been broken down for the retail investors, there is more and more access and that desire to invest in shares.

“There is that on one side for employees and then there are also companies who would love to reward their employees in a way that gives back, getting that sense of ownership.”

He said Sharesies could act as a middle-man to solve that problem.

It was also handling a Steel and Tube grant this week for some of its employees and it had also handled a grant for Air New Zealand recently.

Air New Zealand announced it would give away $1000 worth of its shares to employees in June with around 8000 workers eligible for the share offer.

While Steel and Tube was giving its staff $150 worth of shares in the company as a reward for getting vaccinated.

In September the company told workers they would get either $150 in cash, KiwiSaver contributions or company shares if they got both doses of the vaccine by mid-November.

“We just helped them to facilitate that,” Watson said.

Between 100 and 200 staff had opted to take up shares in Steel & Tube.

“We have done share grants for thousands of New Zealand-based employees already.”

Watson said it was really keen to do more and was building up its capabilities to be able to offer more complex share schemes as well where employees would be required to hold onto the shares for a period like a year.

It was only doing it for listed companies at this stage, although it also offered a service which unlisted companies could just put cash into an account for their employees to invest.

“Listed companies we can do actual shares of the company.”

It would also look to do employee share schemes for ASX-listed companies as well in the future, he said.

Watson said a key driver was companies having a genuine desire to help employees with their financial wellbeing while also rewarding employees when the company had a good year.

“It’s a bonus that allows employees to share in the profits going forward and the future success of the company.”

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