Since the promulgation of the amended codes of good practice under the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act 53 of 2003, as amended (“BBBEE” or “the Act”), compliance with the ownership element has become a compulsory compliance element for both Qualifying Small Enterprises (“QSE” having between R10 and 50 million annual turnover) and generic enterprises (over R50 million annual turnover). As a result, businesses have found themselves considering mechanisms which aim to address this element. At the forefront of these mechanisms are employee share schemes.
The first of these structures were constructed in the early 2000’s by JSE listed companies. The aim of these structures were essentially two-fold:
- An employee retention strategy similarly constructed as executive share schemes in many ways, and
- Compliance with BBBEE.
These structures have recently been under the spotlight again . Mainly because of the questions it raises in terms of whether it is true empowerment or not.
For businesses wanting to utilise these structures, a number of aspects are to be considered:
- Employers and employees stand in a vertical relationship with one another. This is because the employer directs the expectations and the standards of the services exchanged between them. Shareholders, on the other hand, are in a horizontal relationship as they are equally entitled to regulate and direct matters which may affect their shareholding or investment. So, to shift from a vertical to a horizontal relationship requires the necessary professional inputs, management and attention.
- These share schemes are separate entities that require the necessary attention and inputs. As such, it is not just a case of setting it up and it simply running itself.
- These structures need to have a shelf life in my view. In this regard, I mean that a clear commercially feasible strategy needs to be devised and implemented in regards to the trust. This would include a structured plan whereby employees would not only be entitled to dividends but would also have the opportunity to up-skill and to improve themselves in various ways. The financial benefits should aim to facilitate direct ownership.
It is important to remember that inviting partners to sit at the table, needs to fully embrace the concept. If it does not, it not only negatively impacts the relationship, but disempowers the people involved. The human aspect thereof is as devastating as the legal non-compliance which may even go as far as constituting fronting.
In order to avoid this, these structures need to be setup correctly and managed correctly, which means:
- The trust deed must clearly define the beneficiaries and the proportion of their right to receive distributions;
- The trustees must actively take part in managing the trust at a level similar to the management role of shareholders in a company having a shareholding;
- Based on the aforesaid, in my view, the trustees should be appointed by the beneficiaries;
- A written record must be kept identifying the beneficiaries as well as prove that they fall within the designated groups as defined in the Act. The trustees must have no discretion in this regard;
- A written record must be kept of fixed percentages of claims or outlining formulas for calculating claims. The trustees must have no discretion in this regard;
- The trustees must present the financial reports of the trust to the beneficiaries yearly at an annual general meeting of the Trust;
- The trust deed or other relevant statutory documents of the trust must be made available, or on request, to any beneficiary in an official language in which that person is familiar;
- On winding up or termination of the trust, all accumulated interest must be transferred to the beneficiaries or to an entity representing the interests of the participants or class of beneficiaries.
Expert professional guidance is therefore crucial in order to avoid these structures becoming your own ticking time bomb.