EXCLUSIVE: Property organisation Countrywide has amended its employee share scheme provision to launch a new sharesave scheme (SAYE) for 8,300 eligible UK employees.
The new scheme, which was implemented in April 2018, has replaced the organisation’s previous share incentive plan (SIP). It offers eligible employees a three-year sharesave plan that enables them to purchase organisation shares at a 20% discount on Countrywide’s current share price at the conclusion of the three-year period. If employees do not wish to buy shares at the end of the three years, then they can receive back the money they have saved.
To be eligible for the sharesave scheme, employees have to be employed by Countrywide on a permanent basis and have completed at least six months of service. There are approximately 8,300 eligible employees who can take up the scheme at Countrywide, compared to its total workforce of 11,000 staff.
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Countrywide introduced the new sharesave scheme in order to counteract a decrease in its SIP renewal rates. The SIP was originally introduced in 2013 and then improved in 2016 to offer employees more matching shares. However, from March and April 2017, the organisation observed that renewal rates on the plan were falling from the membership peak of 25% of eligible employees in 2016.
The organisation sent out a bespoke benefits survey to employees in the summer of 2017 to understand the reasons behind the drop in SIP renewals. It found that they wanted an employee share scheme that provided more security for their savings.
Neil Goodwin, reward director, HR at Countrywide, said: “[The bespoke benefits survey] was to establish why take-up was falling for the share incentive plan and the main reasons for that was people wanted more security for the money they were putting in each month. With a [sharesave scheme], whatever happens to the share price, [employees] can still take the money back that [they have] paid in at the end of the three years whereas with a share incentive plan, if the share price goes down, [it could potentially affect employees’ investment], so that was the main driver behind the changing plans, because employees said that they want more security for their savings.”
To launch the new sharesave scheme, Countrywide undertook a variety of communications including writing to employees’ homes, posters, information on the staff intranet, online blogs and emails. The organisation also engaged senior managers within the business as champions of the scheme and utilised employee representatives, which are called Agents of Change, to help further promote the new plan locally across Countrywide’s 1,300 national branches.
Madeline Howlett, reward manager at Countrywide, added: “The key to the success of the plan was engaging early on with our employees. In a business as dispersed as Countrywide, delivering a message can be a difficult task, therefore we engaged with SAYE champions across the business, made up of our senior leaders and employee representatives known as Agents of Change, to help promote the plan within their area.”
More than 1,519 employees took up the sharesave scheme in its initial three-week launch window. The next window to join the plan will be next year.
Goodwin said: “[Countrywide is an advocate] of having [a] relatively small number of benefits that have [a] very wide appeal [and] that are also aligned with business strategy. We’ve got Under One Roof, which is our employee discount scheme, which has been really successful and I see the [sharesave scheme] being another one of those core benefits that is available to everyone, with the exception of those with less than six months’ service, that really aligns and directly supports our strategy and gets people on side and bought into the business.”