Share-based payment forms such as stock options, virtual shares, restricted/performance stock units, etc. are particularly popular with start-ups. According to International Financial Reporting Standard 2 (IFRS 2), however, this also causes problems.
In addition to targeted incentives based on company value, financial aspects are playing an increasingly important role in the structuring of corresponding compensation programs. If properly designed, this is not only a cash-saving form, but also a P&L-friendly form of remuneration, especially in the case of fast-growing companies in the so-called equity-settled case. The planned entry into the capital market and the frequently associated conversion of accounting to IFRS pose a number of challenges for companies per se and start-ups. In the following, we present pragmatic solutions for selected issues in the context of accounting in accordance with IFRS 2.
No options traded on the market
In accordance with IFRS 2, the fair value of the subscription rights granted, such as stock options, is determined on the basis of market prices. Especially for young companies whose shares are not listed on any stock exchange, no market prices are available for issued subscription rights. In this case, an adequate measurement method must be applied in accordance with IFRS 2. In the standard, the Black-Scholes formula and the binomial model are explicitly mentioned. While the Black-Scholes formula is only able to determine an IFRS-compliant fair value for very simply structured programs, the binomial model can be used to map significantly more complex structures such as the possibility of exercising during different time windows and payout caps. If the compensation programs include even more complex contractual regulations, such as a performance criterion compared to an index, the so-called Monte Carlo simulation is usually used. This allows the corresponding payout profiles to be modeled flexibly, taking into account the individual performance criteria.
Current price of the underlying asset
The valuation methods mentioned all have in common that they use the share price of the company or the proportionate market value of equity as input variable. For non-listed companies, market prices for equity shares are generally not available. It is therefore necessary to use appropriate assessment procedures. Multiple and discounted cash flow (DCF) methods are often used in practice. Within the framework of the multiple procedures, valuation is carried out on the basis of financial parameters such as sales, EBIT or EBITDA of comparable listed companies. The DCF procedures are based on the payment surpluses of integrated corporate planning, which are discounted with a discount rate commensurate with risk and maturity. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, which should be taken into account in the decision-making process. The multiple approach is a fairly simple procedure based largely on external information. The challenges here are the identification of an adequate peer group, the orientation towards the past and the often different accounting methods of target and peer group companies.
The advantage of the DCF method is its orientation towards the future financial development of the company and the explicit consideration of the company’s individual risk and opportunity profile. Disadvantages are the comparatively high preparation effort as well as the dependence on availability and quality of corporate planning.
Since both methods are associated with various challenges, transaction prices from past financing rounds are increasingly accepted as the best estimator of the market value of equity. The particular challenge here lies in the usually low frequency with which corresponding financing rounds are carried out. This justifiably raises the question of the extent to which a six-month-old transaction price is an adequate estimator of the market value of equity, especially for young companies.
The expected volatility represents the measure of fluctuation of the share price during a period. Formally, this risk measure can be defined as the annualized standard deviation of the stock’s steady returns. Volatility represents one of the strongest parameters influencing the level of the option price. The more volatile the share price, the higher the value of the subscription right. For the purpose of estimating expected volatility, IFRS 2 mentions both implicit and historical volatility.
Since the implied volatility can only be determined on the basis of the company’s options traded on the market, this method is usually not available to young companies.
Historical volatility, on the other hand, is relatively easy to determine in the presence of market-traded stocks as an annualized standard deviation of logarithmic historical stock price changes. A common problem is the calculation of historical volatility in newly listed companies. In this case, the standard recommends, among other things, to focus on historical volatility in relation to the “longest period for which trading data is available”. For non-listed companies, however, historical volatility cannot be used to estimate it. In this case, the implicit or historical volatility of peer-group companies is used to estimate the value of the expected volatility.
Early exercise of subscription rights
In many cases, subscription rights such as stock options are exercised by employees before the end of the contract term. From an economically rational point of view, an early exercise cannot be justified in the case of dividend-free shares, since in this case the employee waives the fair value of the option, whereas by selling the option he could realize both its intrinsic value and its fair value. However, this is not the case for employee options, as stock options are in most cases not alienable or transferable during their term and thus only by exercising the option is it possible for the holder to generate the corresponding cash flow before maturity.
In this context, the model often does not take the actual but the expected term of the option as a basis, i.e. an estimate is made regarding the probable exercise date. Since this method is based solely on management’s assessment in the absence of historical data on exercise behaviour, the applicability of the method in the context of an objective fair value measurement is questionable.
Eine weitere Möglichkeit besteht durch Berücksichtigung einer Kennzahl, die sich aus dem Aktienkurs und dem Ausübungspreis der Option ergibt. In diesem Zusammenhang wird ein Zielkurs festgelegt, bei dem erwartet wird, dass die Mitarbeiter ihre Optionen ausüben werden. Dieser Zielkurs beträgt in der Regel ein Vielfaches des Ausübungskurses der Aktienoption. Zur frühzeitigen Ausübung kommt es im Modell dann, wenn der Aktienkurs zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt größer ist als der Zielkurs.
Bisher hat sich für die Abbildung der frühzeitigen Ausübung im Rahmen der Aktienoptionsbewertung kein Standardansatz durchgesetzt. Da die bisher entwickelten Modelle auf unterschiedlichen Variablen zur Modellierung der frühzeitigen Ausübung abstellen, sollte in der Praxis der Ansatz gewählt werden, für den zuverlässige und plausible Schätzungen der zugrunde liegenden Variablen vorgenommen werden können.
Die Komplexität der bilanziellen Abbildung anteilsbasierter Vergütung hat die Verbreitung dieses Incentivierungsinstruments bislang nicht eingeschränkt. „Junge“ IFRS-Anwender sollten sich der Fallstricke im Zuge der Bilanzierung und Bewertung bewusst sein. Bei fehlenden internen Kapazitäten kann eine frühzeitige Einbindung entsprechender Experten hilfreich sein, um nicht im Zuge der Jahresabschlussprüfung unangenehme Überraschungen zu erleben.
Der Beitrag ist Teil des Spezials “Mitarbeiterbeteiligung 2021”.