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Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP): Take advantage of great returns!

Baptiste Wicht | Updated: |

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

With my new job this year, I get access to an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP). It is the first time I am working for a company that offers such a plan. As such, I have been researching my options for how to handle this ESPP. In this article, I share what I have found out about ESPP.

An ESPP is a plan to use some part of your salary to get company shares at a discount price.

In this article, I present many strategies to decide when to sell shares coming from an ESPP. Finally, I will go over the strategy I chose for my ESPP shares.

Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP)

All ESPPs are mostly the same. Each month, you can allocate some portion of your salary to buy stock shares from your company. This allocation can be from 1% to 25%.

So, if you have 10’000 income every month, 2500 CHF will be used to buy stock shares. And the rest, 7500 CHF, will be received as cash as your salary.

There is almost a maximum of how much you can contribute per year. The limit is 25’000 USD per year. In Switzerland, this is about 25’000 CHF.

Every six months, the accumulated money from your salary is used to buy stock shares from your company. If you are not paid in USD, the funds will be converted into CHF at the end of the six months before buying shares.

What is very interesting about an ESPP is that the share price is not the market value. The price is generally 15% cheaper than the market value. And even better than that, it will be 15% cheaper based on the minimum between the starting and end prices.

It means you can get a higher discount than 15% if the stock is going up. For instance, imagine that the stock is at 10 USD at the beginning of the period and 15 USD at the end. You will buy it at 8.5 USD and can sell it for 15 USD. That is a 76.5% gain! If the stock goes down, you get at least 15%.

And there is something even better about ESPP. Your purchasing price is generally locked for a longer period. For instance, my company’s purchasing price is locked for two years. It can be extremely beneficial if the stock of your company goes up.

Overall, it is a no-brainer; you should allocate the maximum permitted by your ESPP. It is a substantial gain. Honestly, there is no reason not to do it. You need to take advantage of your ESPP if your company offers one!

ESPP Strategies

Now, I hope I have convinced you to buy into your ESPP. Every six months, you will receive some shares from your company stock. What will you do with it?

If you want some gain, you must sell your shares at some point. There are several ESPP strategies to decide when selling the shares. You should have a plan and stick to it. It is important. You can define it as part of your Investor Policy Statement.

The first strategy is to sell the shares as soon as possible. You sell the shares at the end of the period as soon as they are available. It guarantees you a 15% return on investment. And it can be much higher if the company’s stock went up. This first strategy is the safest strategy. Mathematically, it is the one that makes the most sense. It is also the strategy that most people advise.

The second strategy is to hold the shares. You hold the shares for the long term, and you only sell when you need the funds. You have to be sure of the value of the stock for this. For instance, does your company shares pay a dividend? Do you believe in the long-term returns of the company?

You also have to be aware that this makes a bias to your work. If the company goes bankrupt, you will leave your job and lose a lot in stocks. It is a risk that you need to take into account. If you have a considerable net worth and your company shares are a tiny part of it, it is okay to hold your company shares. Otherwise, I would not recommend this strategy.

Another strategy is to hold for a specific time. I know some people are always holding for at least one month or at least one year before selling. It is still risky since the stock can go down before you sell. But it is less risky than owning forever since you will never have a huge part of your net worth in your company shares.

If you are a value investor, you can also hold if the stock is undervalued. In that case, you will need to evaluate the value of the stock. If the current price is lower, you hold onto it. Otherwise, you sell. It requires that you have a very good knowledge of the company and the stock market in general.

Another strategy is to hold with some safety. For instance, some people hold but use stop-loss orders to avoid losing money. And you can also put sell order to buy when the stock goes up in price. That way, you can lock in the risk and the returns.

Yet another bad strategy is to hold until you feel you should sell. It is market timing. How will you know when it is time to sell? Professional investors have failed to do that for decades. It is fine if you want to hold, but do not try to time the market.

There are also some complicated strategies involving options and futures. But that this not something I want to do. And I do not advise you to do it either. I believe in simplicity in investing. So, again, you should sell your shares are soon as you receive them. It is a 15% return on investment in six months! Where else will you get that kind of return? Nowhere!

Conclusion – My ESPP strategy

Since I already depend on my company for my job and thus my income, I do not want to rely too much on the stock. For now, I need some diversification.

Therefore, I will use the safest strategy and sell directly when I get the shares. It is the strategy that makes the most sense. This strategy is the only way to get a guaranteed return.

As for the allocation, I allocated 25% of my salary to my ESPP. And will recheck this percentage when my salary increases. I will always use a percentage that makes it very close to the limit per year.

One thing is essential with ESPP: Use your ESPP! A lot of people do not use it enough. Some people do not use it because they fear investing in stocks. But if you sell directly, it is a return much safer than stocks! Some people feel 15% is not enough. But today, a 15% return is enormous!

You should allocate the maximum from your salary to your ESPP if you are lucky enough to have one. If you sell directly, it is just a delay in income. You will get it later! And you will get more than what you allocated. Why would you not want that ?!

What about you? How do you use your ESPP?

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Baptiste Wicht started in 2017. He realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

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12 thoughts on “Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP): Take advantage of great returns!”

  1. Thank you very much for all your articles, you helped me a lot moving into Switzerland! I suggest your blog to all my friends.

    How does ESPP work at your company? Are you able to deposit the stock directly in your Interactive Brokers account? If yes, how? I asked IBKR and they told me they only accept incoming transfers from accounts in my name, so that doesn’t seem compatible.
    The company where I work also offers ESPP and I would like to start taking advantage of it, but they require a Swiss custodian account to deposit the shares into but I don’t want to open an investment account at a Swiss institution just for this, they’re expensive and I already have my IBKR.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks :)

      My employer works with etrade directly, so we receive stocks there and we can sell there or keep cash there. I have never tried transferring the shares out of etrade, I transfer the cash directly to IB.
      So, in your case, I am not sure this will work, I would ask your employer about it. In theory, it could work, but IBs’s account are not Swiss.

  2. Great article!
    Just checking, about the maximum value of shares that an employee can subscribe to.
    You mention 25’000 USD. Is this a reflection of US regulation, or based on Swiss regulation?
    I’m based in Switzerland and working for a Swiss AG – I could not find anywhere an official source that defines such an upper limit.
    Do you know more specifically how this is regulated (or not) in CH ?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi MFF,

      Yes, this is a limit set by the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) from the United States (my company is located in the US). If a company from Switzerland had the same system, I do not know what would be the limit.
      Can’t you ask your company how much you can put into your ESPP plan?

      1. Dear Mr Poor, thanks!

        My employer will be launching such a program in 1yr from now, so the details are not know yet.
        Of course, I would like to push my contributions into the ESP as much as possible.
        However, if the limit is high, I need to do some cash planning already now (i.e. being able to postpone a significant of cash-ins during the contribution period).
        If I already knew that there were a CH-wide official limit, I could factor this information into my planning. Otherwise, I need to wait for the company-specific information to become available.


      2. Hi MFF,

        You will have to check with them to be sure, but all the ESPP I know of are 25K USD per year. And the second limit is 25% of your salary, not more.
        If you can live with 75% of your salary, you should be safe on all counts!

  3. For ESPP, is there a law in Switzerland that you have to use the closing market value on the date of acceptance to calculate the income, instead of using the lower of the market value and the value at the beginning of the six month period?

  4. Dear Mr. The Poor Swiss

    Nice post and interesting point of view, i just asked myself the same question and i mean i live with my Girlfriend in a small apartment and my monthly fix Bills are around 1000Chf, why should i have more than 5000Chf on the side?
    Well there is one point at least at Postfinance, keep a minimum of 7500Chf do not pay monthly fees. :)

    1. Hi Ricardo,

      Reading your comment, I think you meant to publish on the Emergency fund post ;)

      The point regarding Postfinance fees is a very good one! You should indeed not go lower than 7500 CHF with them. Or if you want to go lower, you’ll want to change bank. Since I’m also with PF, I don’t plan to go too low either. For now, I’ll go down to 10’000, but I may go down lower later. I’m still not totally sure.

      I’m glad you like my post!
      Thanks for stopping by :)

  5. Not only as much as you can afford from your salary, but the top period. Think of it like this. Take money out of savings for the first period of espp to support yourself. Sell immediately, then use that payment minus return to supplement income next period. Rinse and repeat. Your income doesn’t need to play into it, only the first period of supplement in assets. Obvious disclaimer I’m not your financial advisor you do everything based on tour own research applies.

    1. Hi FullTimeFinance,

      That’s indeed a superior way to think about it! I will update my post to reflect this. I didn’t think that it will come back anyway!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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