Let's Talk French: The Role of BSPCE in Global Employee Compensation

Let's Talk French: The Role of BSPCE in Global Employee Compensation

June 19, 2023

Let's Talk French: The Role of BSPCE in Global Employee Compensation

Think of yourself as a foreign startup founder. Your company stock is promising, and you're about to enter the bustling market of Paris. You've secured a meeting with top-notch talent in a quaint Parisian café, someone who has the potential to propel your company to new heights. The café is steeped in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and an air of anticipation. You know you need an attractive compensation package to entice this prospective employee. However, as a startup, your resources and money are limited and the stock price is not yet at its peak. 

This is where Bons de Souscription de Parts de Créateur d'Entreprise (BSPCE) comes into play. Embedded in the fabric of the French legal system, these incentives are an example that could make or break a deal in acquiring a key employee. Over your café au lait, you unfold the benefits of BSPCE—a chance for this talent to become one of its stakeholders in the promising future of your venture without the immediate need to lay down money or pay taxes. Now that's a compelling offer.

What is BSPCE?

Bons de Souscription de Parts de Créateur d'Entreprise, better known by its acronym, BSPCE, is a unique equity compensation instrument embedded within the French legal system. Think of it as a golden ticket offered to employees in the French labor force, promising a share in the company's future success.

Unlike direct ownership or stock options, a BSPCE doesn't equate to immediate ownership in a company. Instead, it's a right granted to employees to subscribe to a company's stock at a pre-determined price, the strike price. This is locked in at the date of issuance and doesn't fluctuate with the market price (fair market value of FMV), which means the true value of a BSPCE can significantly increase over time if the company stock performs well.

Picture this: An employee is granted a BSPCE at the beginning of their employment, with the strike price set at the current value of the company stock. Over time, as the company grows and succeeds, the FM value of the company's stock rises. However, the exercise or strike price remains the same. This situation allows the employee to purchase company stock at a lower cost, thus enabling them to make a potential profit when they sell shares at a higher market price.

This incentive embodies the principle of value creation— the better the company performs, the greater the potential benefit for the employee. It incentivizes workers to contribute to the company's success and gives them a sense of ownership. In dans tous les cas, the BSPCE is an attractive perk that can make a difference in drawing top talent to your venture.

At its core, it represents a uniquely French approach to incentivizing workers—a financial tool that offers potential high rewards for the company's success while providing a sense of security and commitment for the employee.

Framework in the French Legal System

Venturing into the French industry comes with a need to understand its unique legal landscape. You'll need to navigate the French legislation, known for its detailed private law, to fully utilize the potential of BSPCEs.

In the French country, a framework outlined by the French government controls the issuance of BSPCEs. As a foreign employer, you'll need to get acquainted with this legislation that straddles the line between private law and administrative law. Specifically, the legal aspects fall under private law, but they're subject to the principles and rules dictated by the government and monitored by the administrative courts.

Unlike many other jurisdictions where equity compensation like stock options falls under public law or droit public, the French country maintains the BSPCE under private law. This means that the rules regarding this incentive tool are mostly codified, with less room for interpretation or flexibility. As a result, any dispute relating to the grant, exercise, or taxation of the incentive is typically handled by the administrative courts, and constitutional council guidelines and case law inform these legal disputes.

Differences from Other Forms of Employee Compensation

When it comes to rewarding your team members, particularly in the French labor force, you'll find a range of options available. But in practical terms, BSPCEs offer unique benefits that differentiate them from other forms of employee compensation, especially when considering stock options.

The biggest distinction lies in the very nature of these two types of compensation. Unlike stock options, which give the right to purchase existing shares of a company at a set strike price, BSPCEs grant the right to subscribe to new shares created specifically for this purpose. This fundamental distinction has profound implications for both the company and the employee.

The strike price of stock options is typically set at the fair market value on the date of the grant. The employee then stands to gain if the stock price rises above this strike price during the validity period of the option. However, stock options work differently in the French country than in other jurisdictions, particularly when it comes to taxation. While the gain from exercising a stock option is subject to social contributions and income taxes, BSPCEs benefit from a more favorable tax regime.

Unlike how stock options work, BSPCEs are also more flexible when it comes to strike prices. In principle, the strike price can be set at any amount, as long as it's not symbolic and respects certain criteria defined by French law. This flexibility allows your company to offer an attractive incentive to workers while still maintaining control over your capital structure.

Finally, BSPCEs are particularly advantageous for startups and growth companies, unlike how stock options work. In the beginning, when the company's stock might not have a high market value, BSPCEs provide a powerful incentive for employees to contribute to the growth of the business. The promise of future rewards tied to the company's success can motivate workers to push for better performance, driving value creation in the long run.

BSPCE versus Stock Options

As you plan your global compensation strategy, understanding the nuances between BSPCE and stock options becomes crucial. While both serve as key tools to attract and retain talent in the French workforce, their application, legal considerations, and financial implications vary greatly.

Stock options, as you likely know, offer the right to purchase shares of a company at a predetermined price, also known as the strike price. Typically, stock options are offered at the current fair market value of the company stock at the time of issuance. Employees can then exercise these options, purchasing the stock and hoping that the company stock price will increase over time. As an employer, it's crucial to keep in mind the distinction between the strike price and the potential future stock price.

On the other hand, BSPCEs represent a unique aspect of the French legal system, offering a more flexible way to reward your talents. Instead of providing a right to buy existing shares, BSPCEs grant the right to subscribe to new shares, meaning they can help you avoid dilution of the existing shares.

Here's where things get interesting: the strike or exercise price for BSPCEs is not tied to the current FMV. French law permits setting it at any reasonable amount, provided it is not purely symbolic. This flexibility can prove advantageous, especially for startups and growth companies whose market value might be volatile.

Another major distinction is the way each is taxed. While the gain from exercising stock options is typically subject to social contributions and income tax, BSPCEs enjoy a more advantageous taxation framework under French law, a factor that could sway employees toward your company.

Moreover, it's important to note the expiry date. BSPCEs generally have a longer validity period compared to stock options, making them an attractive long-term incentive.

However, issuing BSPCEs does come with a set of eligibility requirements. Not every company can offer BSPCEs, and not every employee can receive them, making stock options a more universally accessible, albeit potentially less advantageous, form of equity compensation.

When it comes to BSPCE versus stock options, the choice isn't always clear-cut. While BSPCEs offer certain advantages, stock options might be more suitable in certain scenarios. It's a delicate balancing act that requires a deep understanding of both forms of compensation, as well as an appreciation of the French legal policies and your company's unique situation.

Eligibility Requirements for BSPCE

In the realm of equity compensation, the administration of France offers BSPCEs as a powerful incentive tool, but their issuance comes with specific eligibility requirements, both for companies and employees. Understanding these is crucial to navigating the French legal policies 

1. Types of companies eligible to grant BSPCE

Not all companies are eligible to issue BSPCEs. Under French law, BSPCEs can only be granted by companies that meet specific conditions. These companies must be less than 15 years old, should not be listed on a stock exchange, and must have their fiscal residence in the French country or in another member state of the European Union. If your company meets these criteria, you are at the starting line for BSPCE issuance.

2. Criteria for employees to receive BSPCE

BSPCEs can't just be offered to anyone. They're aimed at specific people within the company—typically the founders, administration executives, or employees who can significantly contribute to the growth and success of the business. The National Assembly has set forth that the beneficiaries of BSPCEs must work in the company and not simply hold a position in the executive brand and administration, or on the board.

3. Countries that can issue BSPCE

This is straightforward. BSPCEs are unique to France and the French legislation, and only companies with their fiscal residence in the French country or another member state of the European Union can issue them. If you're a foreign company looking to attract French talent, you might need to consider establishing a legal entity within the country or the EU to take advantage of BSPCEs to avoid incurring criminal penalties.

4. Les conditions During Company D’une Restructuration

There are special les conditions under which BSPCEs can be granted. For example, in the case of d'une restructuration of a company, such as mergers, acquisitions, or public bodies offers, the company may issue new BSPCEs to maintain the balance of power and provide continuity of incentives.

Understanding these eligibility requirements is crucial not just for compliance with the French laws, but also for effectively leveraging BSPCEs as a tool to attract and retain talent. You'll need to ensure your company and the prospective BSPCE recipients meet the necessary criteria, enabling you to maximize the benefits of this unique form of employee compensation.

Components of BSPCE

A BSPCE is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it consists of several key components that can be tailored to suit your company's unique needs and circumstances. Understanding these components is fundamental to leveraging the BSPCE effectively and ensuring it aligns with your company's compensation strategies. Here are the critical components:

Exercise Price

This is the price at which an employee can buy shares when they decide to exercise their BSPCE. Unlike stock options, the price of a BSPCE doesn't have to match the FMV on the date of the grant. As long as the exercise price is not purely symbolic and is indeed a droit price, you can set it at any value that makes sense for your company and its employees.

Expiration Date

BSPCEs are not perpetual; they have a fixed lifespan. The expiration date is typically set at the time of issuance, and it can be as long as 10 years in the future. This long-term perspective makes BSPCEs an attractive choice for companies looking to reward and retain their key employees.


This is the specific number of new shares that can be subscribed to when a BSPCE is exercised. It's crucial to decide on the specific number and right quantity that doesn't overly dilute the company's existing shares, while still offering a significant incentive for employees.

Vesting Schedule

The vesting schedule outlines the time frame over which the BSPCEs become exercisable. It's an excellent tool for employee retention, as it usually requires the worker to stay with the company for a certain period before they can exercise their BSPCEs.

Subscription Rights

Unlike stock options that offer the right to purchase existing shares, BSPCEs grant the right to subscribe to new shares. This component gives you, as the employer, greater control over your capital structure and can help minimize dilution.

Sale of Shares and Market Price

Once the BSPCEs are exercised, and the worker has subscribed to the new shares, they may decide to sell shares. The difference between the purchase price (the strike price) and the price paid for the shares represents the capital gain.

Conditions of souscription de parts

Conditions of souscription de parts relate to the specific terms and conditions of the BSPCEs, such as performance criteria the worker must meet to exercise their BSPCEs or restrictions on the selling of shares.

Each of these components provides a unique opportunity to tailor the BSPCE to your company's needs and ensure it aligns with your broader compensation strategy. As you navigate the French regulatory policies and the specific regulations around BSPCEs, you'll find that a thorough understanding of these components is critical to leveraging this powerful tool effectively.

Advantages of BSPCE for Foreign Employers and French Citizens or Employees

BSPCEs, a unique feature of the French legislation, offer a range of benefits that can be particularly advantageous to foreign employers looking to attract and retain talent in the French market, and for workers who are based in or citizens of the country alike. Here's an overview of these advantages:

  • Favorable Tax Regime: As a foreign employer, the tax implications of employee compensation can be a significant concern. Fortunately, the souscription de parts are designed to be advantageous from a tax perspective. The gain resulting from the exercise of a BSPCE is subject to a more favorable tax rate compared to traditional stock options. This reduced tax burden makes BSPCEs an attractive option for workers, who get to keep more of their hard-earned profit gain.

  • Attractiveness for Employees: In a competitive job market, being able to offer a unique and valuable compensation package can set your company apart. Because of their potential for paid high rewards and low tax burden, BSPCEs can be an enticing offer for top talent in France. For workers, BSPCEs represent an opportunity to share in the company's success and contribute to its growth in a meaningful way.

  • Flexibility: BSPCEs offer a degree of flexibility not found in traditional stock options. The strike price doesn't need to be set at the FMV at the date of issuance, and the vesting schedule can be tailored to suit your company's needs. This flexibility allows you to create a compensation package that aligns with your company's goals and circumstances.

  • Retention of Talent: With the option of setting a longer expiry date, BSPCEs serve as an effective tool for retaining key talents. They encourage longevity and dedication, tying the employees' rewards to the company's long-term success.

  • Creation of New Shares: As an employer, issuing BSPCEs gives you the advantage of creating new shares instead of diluting the existing ones. This means you can reward your team without impacting the value of your current shareholders' investment.

  • Compliance with French Law: As a foreign employer, navigating a new legal system can be daunting. The government of France has set up the BSPCE system to encourage startups and growth companies, and using BSPCEs in your compensation strategy demonstrates your company's commitment to compliance with local laws.

In practical terms, using BSPCEs as part of your compensation strategy can provide a competitive edge, attracting top talent while keeping in line with the principles of French legislation. By aligning the interests of the company and its workers, BSPCEs create a win-win situation, driving growth and success for all parties involved.

Disadvantages and Potential Drawbacks

While BSPCEs offer numerous advantages, it's important to consider some potential drawbacks and challenges. As with any equity compensation tool, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and you'll need to balance the benefits against these potential drawbacks:

  • Limited Eligibility: BSPCEs are not available to all companies. As per French policy, only certain companies that meet specific criteria, such as being under 15 years old and not being listed on a stock exchange, can issue BSPCEs. As a result, older or publicly traded companies are excluded from leveraging this particular compensation tool.

  • Risk for Employees: Like any equity-based incentive, BSPCEs come with a level of risk for workers. If the company stock doesn't perform well, the value of the BSPCEs can diminish, or in the worst case, become worthless. While this risk is a fundamental part of the 'skin in the game' principle, it may not be suitable for all workers.

  • Complex Legal Framework: Navigating the legal system of France can be challenging, particularly for foreign employers. The complexity of the laws surrounding BSPCEs and the potential need for legal counsel could lead to increased administrative costs, which is imperative to avoiding criminal charges.

  • Potential for Dilution: While BSPCEs allow the creation of new shares rather than the use of existing ones, this can still lead to dilution of ownership. If not managed carefully, issuing too many BSPCEs could significantly dilute the ownership stake of existing shareholders.

  • French Government Control: The issuance of BSPCEs is tightly controlled by the government of France and requires strict compliance with various regulations and laws. Non-compliance could lead to criminal penalties, making BSPCEs a potentially high-risk option if not managed properly.

Taxation Basics

One of the key considerations for any form of compensation is the taxation implications. In the case of BSPCE, the government of France has implemented a favorable taxation regime that aims to encourage its use as an incentive tool, particularly for startups and growth companies. Here's what you need to know:

  • Capital Gains Tax: When a worker exercises their BSPCEs, they are required to pay taxes on the profit gains—the difference between the purchase price and the price given for the shares. However, the tax rate is significantly lower than that applied to traditional stock options, making BSPCEs a more tax-efficient choice for employees.

  • Employer Social Contributions: As an employer, one of the significant advantages of these incentives is that they are not subject to social contributions at the time of issuance or exercise. This can result in substantial savings compared to other forms of compensation.

  • Tax at Sale: When the shares acquired are sold, the resulting gain is subject to capital gains tax. However, the rate applied is lower than that for regular stock options, providing another tax advantage for team members.

"Dans Tous Les Cas..."

As you consider expanding your business operations to France or enticing French talent to join your global team, it's important to understand the unique advantages and challenges that its policies present. One such unique tool at your disposal is the BSPCE, a form of worker compensation that is distinctively French.

In the beginning, it may seem a bit complicated to navigate—much like a conversation in French when you're not fluent in the language. However, understanding its components, eligibility requirements, and its distinction from traditional stock options can make it a powerful addition to your global compensation strategy. You must remember that BSPCEs are not just about the FMV of your company's stock but also about the symbolic relationship they foster between the company and the employees.

Despite the potential drawbacks and complexities of compliance with French policy, BSPCEs offer significant advantages. From a favorable tax regime to flexibility in setting the strike price and expiration date, BSPCEs provide an excellent tool for attracting and retaining key talent, aligning their interests with your company's long-term success.

Dans tous les cas, as you navigate through the country’s system of public law and private entities, with the executive power of the government of France and the principles laid down by the constitutional council, remember that your venture into its market is much like learning a new language. It may seem challenging at first, but with patience, practice, and a little help, you'll soon be conversing fluently in the language of BSPCEs.

Alternatively, if you prefer an equity compensation plan that meets legal, regulatory, and employment laws across your global teams, Upstock is a suitable option. With our flexible RSU plans and equity management platform, you’ll be breezing through the technicalities and complexities of issuing well-deserved company stocks to your valuable workforce. Send us a request for a demo to find out how we can help your company with this.

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