Number of ESOPs Down, Number of Participants Up

While the number of plans identified as ESOPs has decreased, the number of active participants has steadily increased, NCEO data shows.

The number of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) as of the end of 2013 was 6,795, with 10.6 million active plan participants and $1.23 trillion in plan assets, according to an analysis by the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO).

The estimated number of plans is 1.6% lower than the NCEO’s official count for the end of 2012, but there is a slight uptick in the number of active participants, and the value of plan assets has been trending up. From 2002 to 2013, 2,079 fewer individual ESOP plans were filed, but the total number of participants increased from 10.2 million to 13.9 million over the same period.

Public companies, including lightly traded companies, represent 8% of ESOPs and around 79% of plan participants.

ESOP-like plans include profit-sharing plans invested primarily in company stock and stock bonus plans that include substantial holdings of company stock. Both need to have at least five active participants to be counted. The number of these plans is 2,528 as of year-end 2013, covering 1.2 million total participants and $64 billion in plan assets.

The vast majority of ESOP-like plans are profit-sharing plans. In 2002, 88% of these plans identified as profit-sharing plans; in 2011, it was up to 97%. In contrast, the number of ESOP-like stock bonus plans has decreased significantly. The plans in the “Other plans/not specified” category were most frequently 401(k) plans and participant-directed account plans where participants exercise control over assets in their individual accounts.

The NCEO analyzed the Private Pension Plan (PPP) Research File made available by the Department of Labor from data reported on the Form 5500 for filing year 2013. More information is here.