We Visited Every ESOP Company’s Website: Here’s What We Found
A fair amount of information about the roughly 6,400 U.S. ESOPs can be gleaned from public records of their Form 5500 filings.
We at the NCEO use this data to compile statistics about the size, sector, and other basic characteristics of ESOPs and the companies that sponsor them. (See our Employee Ownership by the Numbers web page for a detailed presentation of these figures). The 5500 data provide company names, plan dates, plan assets by class, and numbers of active and inactive participants, annual distributions, whether the company is leveraged or not, and if they are an S or C.
But the 5500 data leave a lot out. For example, there is no systematic source for how many companies are 100% ESOP-owned. In fact, there are no data on what percentage any ESOP owns. For another, we know that there is wide variation in how companies integrate their ESOP into their business culture. For some it is “only” a benefit plan; for others it is a centerpiece of the company’s identity. But of course these choices are not reported in the Form 5500.
To fill in some of these missing pieces, we embarked on an ambitious project to comb through every ESOP company’s website, using the information to build a database of ESOPs that we believe is unprecedented in scope.
We recorded the percentage of ESOP ownership of all companies that publicly state that figure. We also recorded which companies talk about their ESOP on their website, and how prominently—such as advertising it as a benefit on their careers page or even incorporating it into their logo, as many do. We also made note of ESOP businesses that describe themselves as minority/woman/veteran-owned, are publicly traded, or have other notable characteristics.
We folded our findings into our 2020 ESOP Database, which combines our analysis of Form 5500 filing data with the results of this web research.
We visited the websites of 6,305 ESOP companies. Just over half of these companies (51%) make some mention of their ESOP. Fourteen percent make prominent mention of the ESOP, such as using it in their logo or otherwise making it central to how they present themselves. Large companies with more than 100 ESOP participants were more likely to mention the ESOP. So were manufacturing and professional services companies.
|Number||Percentage of Total|
|Mention having an ESOP||3,243||51%|
|Prominently mention having an ESOP||891||14%|
|Mention percentage ESOP ownership||2,289||36%|
|Say they are 100% ESOP-owned||1,503||24%|
|100% S ESOPs||1,288||20%|
Thirty-six percent of companies give information about their percentage ESOP ownership. A total of 1,503 or 24% state they are 100% ESOP-owned. Most of these (85%) are S corporations. We found 315 minority ESOPs and 184 that are majority but less than 100% ESOP-owned. These numbers are a floor on the true number of 100% ESOPs, which is higher because not all companies list this on their website.
A major takeaway is that many companies could be doing more to use the ESOP to market and define themselves. Only 14% of companies prominently feature their ESOP on their website. Of course, advertising the ESOP might not make sense for all types of businesses, but there is clearly a large number of companies that could benefit from using the ESOP as a recruitment or marketing tool but do not.
Find more ESOP stats at www.nceo.org/data.