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Trends in Stock Plan Administration Staffing

May 10, 2022

In our ongoing quest to help companies with relevant, actionable and mission critical data, benchmarking and insights, the NASPP and Fidelity has teamed up to comprehensively study the state of today’s stock plan staffing situation.  With hot off the press April 2022 data, I’m sharing some of the highlights here.  What did we learn?

“Me” time

Who doesn’t love talking about themselves?  Not us, for sure!  This is our fifth survey in the Equity Compensation Outlook series, but number one in terms of responses, by a sizable margin!  Which is impressive, considering how overworked most of us are!  At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, stock plan staffing increases with participant counts, technology companies represent the largest share of responses (given their high use of equity plans), and stock plan administration can be done effectively remotely. Let’s dive in.

Administration is lean

Over half of companies manage their equity plans with the equivalent of less than two full-time staff members. It is rare for companies to have the equivalent of more than three full-time staff members. Yet, there is a clear correlation between staffing levels and participant counts, with over 70% of companies with four or more FTEs reporting 10,000+ participants.*

What other factors correlate with staff sizes?

  • Percentage of plan administration outsourced.
  • Number of equity related tasks stock plan administration is responsible for.
  • Having participants located on 10 or more countries.

What doesn’t correlate with staff size:

  • Type of administrative functions outsourced.
  • Number of plans supported.

Is staffing sufficient?

Nearly 60% of respondents* report that they feel their stock plan administration team is sufficiently staffed, but that leaves a rather large percentage feeling that staffing is insufficient!  And respondents with greater staff sizes are not always more likely to feel sufficiently staffed. 

While that might feel discouraging, there is some good news here.  Respondents that outsource transaction processing are more likely to report feeling sufficiently staffed than other respondents.  This makes sense.  Companies have significantly shifted to full value awards like RSUs and performance awards.  These types of awards create major volatility with respect to the draw on stock plan resources. It may not be practical to staff to transaction volume peaks that may only occur on an annual or quarterly basis. Companies that leverage outsourced resources to manage to these peak transactions may be better equipped to support more reliable staffing needs. 

Who ultimately suffers from insufficient staffing? Participants.  More than 9 out of 10 respondents report that participant education would be the top priority to improve if they were sufficiently staffed.

Why am I feeling tired?

More companies report that administrative responsibilities are increasing than are adding staff, by a ratio of two to one. This is cause for concern.  Automation and outsourcing of routine tasks is critical to do more with less.  Stock plan professionals aren’t immune to the Great Resignation—watch out for burnout and turnover.

The top three areas of increasing responsibility relate to growth in plan participant populations. This could be due to companies expanding eligibility for equity awards or growth in employee populations. Either way, when combined with the data showing that staffing shortfalls can be detrimental to participants, this points to how critical it will be for companies to sufficiently staff their stock plan administration teams. Participant education is the top area of increasing responsibility. (Am I sensing a theme here?)

That’s my job!

Stock plan administration is almost always responsible for participant education; staffing shortages are likely to affect participants. (Yep! I am sensing a theme!)  US and non-US tax withholding and reporting is also in most of our job descriptions, as well as managing grant recommendations and approval processes.

When it comes to plan design, less than half of us have our hands in it, and only a third of us own the financial reporting components. However, while less than half have primary responsibility for plan design, more than three fourths have some involvement in design ... and, the more involvement, the higher the staffing levels.

Where in the world is my stock plan department?

Attitudes on working remotely have shifted considerably over the past two years.  Company support for remote working arrangements for plan administrators is nearly universal (nearly 90% of companies, up from just 38% before the pandemic).* Administrators will benefit from more flexibility as to when, where, and how they work and greater career opportunities.  It remains to be seen whether these benefits will mitigate the heavier workload many administrators are facing.

How am I doing?

When it comes to measuring success of stock plan professionals, key metrics have not emerged.  Fully a quarter of respondents do not have any specific KPIs for plan administration. Where there are KPIs, most are utilized by only a little over half of companies—or fewer. This may indicate that companies are still figuring out how to evaluate equity plan administration. And, back to that theme… Although plan administration is typically tasked with participant education, only 20% of companies include plan participation in their KPIs.*

Now what?

There is a lot to unpack here.  Mark your calendars for June 15 for a webinar exploring the full survey results.

*NASPP and Fidelity Investments Staffing Survey Research, April 2022
The NASPP and Fidelity Investments are not affiliated
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  • By Emily Cervino

    Fidelity Stock Plan Services

As head of Fidelity Stock Plan Services' Industry Relationships and Thought Leadership, Emily drives connections with the stock plan industry and focuses on developing data-driven insights on equity compensation plan design, usage, and effectiveness based on quantitative and qualitative research to help plan sponsors make more informed decisions about their equity plans and processes.

With over 20 years in the industry, Emily is recognized for deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for equity compensation. She is a frequent speaker and author on topics to help educate employers, advisors, and the media. Emily is a board member for the Certified Equity Professional Institute, member of the NASPP Executive Advisory Committee, and a recipient of the NASPP Individual Achievement Award. She is a Certified Equity Professional and holds Series 7 and 63 securities registrations.