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Understanding to Action: How One Company Increased ESPP Participation

Case study spotlights strategies resulting in 6% enrollment increase.
By: | June 29, 2018 • 5 min read

Client company’s name: Autodesk, Inc.
Client headquarters: San Rafael, CA
Client’s primary business: Autodesk is a multinational software corporation that offers 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software and services.
Challenge we helped solve: Helped Autodesk roll out an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) that included a combination of US and non-US participants, existing and new ESPP participants, along with the launch of online enrollment for all participants.

The client
Autodesk makes software for people who make things. Anyone who has driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film has likely experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with its software.
This is a diverse, inclusive organization with colleagues who reflect the communities they serve around the world. Its talent philosophy is to connect each individual’s success to the success they help create for the company. Autodesk offers a qualified employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) to participants in many jurisdictions around the world and has approximately 7,300 active plan participants, nearly 4,000 of which are located outside the US. This plan is just one way Autodesk enables employees to have ownership in their employer.

The challenge
Autodesk’s legacy ESPP was administered by an internal system that no longer fit their needs as the organization and participant population evolved. In seeking to better deliver on the plan design requirements of their diverse participant population, Autodesk sought out a plan administrator that could support a global ESPP with online enrollment that includes existing participants at home and abroad, along with entirely new participants employed by Autodesk in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. On a parallel track, they also sought an administrator who could help support W-8BEN certification across the non-US participant population. This Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for US Tax Withholding is used by non-US participants to claim income tax treaty benefits on stock plan income.

The challenge of course with bringing on a new plan administrator is the entire participant population must be dutifully communicated to about the changes every step of the way, and ultimately must feel comfortable with the new provider. As a result, one of the project goals was to help make sure participants in certain locations outside of the US, were knowledgeable about how E*TRADE Securities’ capabilities supported the Autodesk ESPP.

As such, effective communication was critical for Autodesk. To add to the complexity, Autodesk was also making changes to the administration of a key aspect of many employees’ compensation (separate from E*TRADE), which could also affect their finances. And let’s be honest, since equity compensation can be an inherently complicated benefit to begin with, clear communication was crucial.

The solution
To help with the transition to the new stock plan provider, a comprehensive communications approach was developed to accommodate all time zones and regions. The initiative leveraged a series of key strategies and touchpoints:

Buy-in from the business and the top. In preparation for the rollout, the core stock plan team met with representatives across the organization in each business unit including HR, legal, and tax to obtain consensus approval for the plan. The team then socialized the plan among the executive ranks to obtain signoff from Autodesk leadership.

Focus on changes to the participant experience. All new Autodesk ESPP participants were asked to enroll online. This new capability was a focus of the communication and education materials. The differences from the previous enrollment process as well as how to complete online enrollment were covered across multiple mediums.

Multi-channel outreach. A dedicated page and an announcement banner on the homepage were used on the company’s intranet, along with links to E*TRADE education and resources where appropriate. Autodesk also distributed a targeted series of emails to the different participant populations at every step of the process. Local HR leaders helped translate the material for each international region. The previous ESPP management site was left live with a link to redirect participants to the new location to make sure communications from other business units that may be referencing the old site would still be effective.

Bespoke, in-person education. E*TRADE created a different version of a participant education presentation for each region to address variances in plan design and communication needs. For example, in some countries taxes are due at purchase instead of sale, so this information was included in Autodesk’s communications. Additionally, a series of live webinars were hosted by E*TRADE, where participants could learn about the plan and E*TRADE as a stock plan administrator. A total of 10 webinars were hosted multiple times throughout the day so that all global participants had the opportunity to attend, based on their time zone. The sessions were also recorded and posted to Autodesk’s intranet, along with presentation slides.

The results
Autodesk found that the comprehensive plan resulted in higher enrollment rates and a successful transition of plan providers.

More than 80% of Autodesk participants who registered for a session attended one or more of the educational seminars, which is well above E*TRADE averages for similar benefit related events. Furthermore, more than 50% of all Autodesk ESPP participants attended at least one of the education sessions.

By the end of the enrollment window, participation increased from previous numbers by 6%,1 and resulted in the highest enrollment percentage in recent years. Further, employees in 91% of countries had higher or equal enrollment levels compared to before the rollout and nearly half of all employees in eligible countries had more than 75% of their eligible employees enrolled.

We could not have been more pleased to help Autodesk in this herculean effort, illustrating communication is not just a vehicle for driving understanding, but is also important for compelling action.

1. ESPP participation data was provided by Autodesk, Inc.
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