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Equity Plan Participants Need Your Advice: Schwab

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Although the average vested value of U.S. workers’ equity compensation is almost $100,000, less than half of those employees have ever exercised or sold their shares, according to the findings of a new study from Schwab Stock Plan Services.

The study also found that a significant number of those with such compensation plans are using advisors to help them figure out what to do with it all.

The average vested value of U.S. workers’ equity compensation is $97,711 and the average total value of their equity compensation is $149,835, an Equity Compensation Plan Participant Survey of 1,000 employees with such plans that was conducted by Logica Research for Schwab from July 1-16 found.

While 41% of respondents said they exercised or sold at least some of their incentive stock options or restricted stock awards and employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs) during their careers, 59% of them said they never exercised or sold any of their shares.

Among those who never sold or exercised their equity compensation, 38% said they were waiting for more favorable market conditions, while 30% said they were concerned about tax implications and 28% were waiting for their equity compensation to become fully vested, according to Schwab.

Eighteen percent said they weren’t sure how to even exercise or sell their equity compensation, while 14% said they were afraid they would make a mistake by doing so.

Clearly, many employees with such compensation plans see the value of having an advisor — or, according to Schwab, they should at least consider hiring one.

After all, a whopping 82% of respondents said they wanted their employers to offer more education to help them understand equity compensation programs. The specific areas in which they wanted help from their employers included: Planning for retirement (68%), using equity compensation to meet financial goals (55%), developing financial plans (52%) and balancing equity compensation with other investments (51%), Schwab said.

More than half (54%) of respondents were already working with financial advisors, and 78% of that group were getting help from advisors with their equity compensation, according to Schwab. Millennials were the most likely to work with an advisor (60%), followed by boomers (53%) and Gen Xers (47%).

“Even if you feel confident in your financial knowledge and decision-making abilities, taking advantage of financial wellness offerings at work or getting advice from an advisor can help you formulate a solid plan and make the most of your benefits,” according to Amy Reback, vice president of Schwab Stock Plan Services.

Among those who have exercised or sold their equity compensation, 41% cited favorable market conditions as their reason for doing so — far ahead of being fully vested and wanting to cash out (27%), wanting to make a large purchase (25%), wanting to diversify their portfolios (24%), needing the money (21%), wanting the money for retirement (16%), being under financial stress or worried about the future of their companies (13% each) and not knowing what else to do with the equity compensation or ESPPs (7%), Schwab said.

The vast majority of those who have exercised their benefits — 88% — said they were very or extremely confident about selling, with millennials being more likely to be extremely confident in that decision (at 62%) than their Gen X (36%) or boomer (40%) counterparts.

Six in 10 employees said they planned to use equity compensation to help finance their retirements, Schwab said. Of those, 36% were millennials, 66% were Gen X and 78% were boomers.

Far lower down on the list of things that U.S. workers with equity compensation planned to do with it were financing their children’s education (9% of respondents), financing their lifestyles for the short term (8%), paying off debt, buying a home and short-term emergencies (5% each) and using it to finance their own educations (3%).

“The workers we surveyed have a significant amount of their wealth in their equity compensation plans,” according to Reback. “The data shows that they are making decisions about this benefit largely based on market conditions,” she said in a statement, adding: “While that and their outlook for their company are important factors, it’s also worth considering the value of equity compensation in the context of your overall financial picture. It’s important to keep a diversified portfolio and make decisions that take into account both short- and long-term goals.”

The survey also revealed the important role of equity compensation in the employer-employee relationship. About a third of respondents (31%) said it was an essential benefit and another 44% considered it very important, according to Schwab. Fifty-one percent said it allowed them to participate in the growth of their companies, while 50% said it would help them significantly build or increase their wealth and 43% said it would help them build or increase their success.

Almost one in three respondents (28%) said their equity compensation offerings were the main reason or one of the main reasons they took their jobs, and that figure rose to 46% among millennials. Additionally, 29% of participants said they wouldn’t consider another job until after their next vesting event, while 12% wouldn’t consider an offer from another company at all, according to Schwab.

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