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2022: A year of positive progress for Ireland’s employee share ownership sector

By December 15, 2022No Comments

The delivery of long-awaited KEEP reform and a first in-person conference for three years. These were two of the highlights for Ireland’s employee share ownership sector over the past 12 months.

There was also a changing of the guard at Irish ProShare Association, with new Chair Marie Flynn and Deputy Chair Peter O’Connor stepping into the roles previously held by Eleanor Cunningham and Gemma Jacobsen.

Eleanor and Gemma ensured that IPSA steered a steady course through the Covid pandemic, working hard to represent the interests of members and the wider employee share ownership at a time of great uncertainty.

It is testament to their work – and that of Marie, Peter, and other past and present members of the IPSA Council – that so much progress has been made in relation to reforming the Key Employee Engagement Programme (KEEP).

The IPSA Council at ESOD22 in September

These much-needed changes were announced in the Budget, with the Finance Bill subsequently detailing that these are mostly positive. A detailed explanation of the KEEP reforms can be found here. They include:

  • An extension of the relief to companies that operate through certain group structures
  • Provisions to allow part-time employees to qualify for relief
  • Provisions to facilitate employees to move between group companies
  • An increase from €3m to €6m for the company/group limit for issued but unexercised options.

KEEP has under-performed ever since it was introduced as part of Budget 2018, with take-up being very poor among its target market of start-up companies and SMEs. Already since the publication of the reforms in the Finance Bill, IPSA members have noticed an increase in interest and enquiries about KEEP from client companies.

As IPSA Chair Marie Flynn said in September following Budget 2023: “The amendments announced to KEEP are significant and positive changes which should make the scheme more attractive to those it is designed to help.”

KEEP demonstrates IPSA’s ability to raise awareness of our sector’s requirements on behalf of our members and to influence policy. The Government recognises the need for companies to be able to incentivise their employees beyond salary alone in order to attract and retain talent and we continue to enjoy a very constructive relationship with officials at the Department of Finance and at Revenue.

This is vitally important because although KEEP was a definite win, other work continues – most notably around Save As You Earn (SAYE).

This Revenue-approved, all-employee share scheme has effectively closed to new entrants in Ireland, due to the withdrawal from the Irish market of Ulster Bank – the only lender which could facilitate new SAYE accounts. This has led to a situation where companies which operate in Ireland and the UK can only offer SAYE share scheme options to their UK employees.

IPSA is engaging with officials from the Department of Finance to find a positive resolution for the troubled SAYE scheme

IPSA continues to engage with the Department of Finance about the pressing need for a solution that makes SAYE viable again. Options to achieve this include persuading a lender to enter the SAYE market in place of Ulster Bank or a change in SAYE legislation to facilitate other non-bank account holders or non-EU banks to hold accounts. Achieving a positive resolution for SAYE is far from certain at this stage but it is one of IPSA’s  main policy priorities for 2023.

However, 2022 was the year when, after two years spent largely hiding from the world, we were able to again enjoy the simple pleasure of being in each other’s company.

For IPSA, this meant an in-person Employee Share Ownership Day event for the first time since 2019. ESOD22 was held at PwC in Dublin and had the theme: Employee Share Ownership – 2022 and Beyond.

A great line-up of speakers and panellists – including SportCaller CEO Cillian Barry, Future of work expert Peter Cosgrove, PwC Director and IPSA Chairperson, Marie Flynn, Dalata Hotel Group’s Claire Oliver, David Cunniam & Therese Bourke from Revenue and Mercer’s Danny Mansergh – provided fascinating insights across a range of topics. There was also a welcome return for former IPSA chief executive Gill Brennan as event MC. You can read more about ESOD22 and download presentation slides here.

IPSA would like to thank the sponsors of ESOD22 – PwC, A&L Goodbody and Computershare – but mostly we would like to thank all those who attended and helped make the day such a warm and welcoming success.

We look forward to more such events in 2023, and to building on the positive progress made in the employee share ownership sector these past 12 months.

In the meantime, we wish all our members, and their loved ones, a very enjoyable festive season and a prosperous new year.