VSOP (Virtual Stock Option)
Is a contractual agreement between a corporation and recipients of virtual shares that bestow upon the grantee the right to a cash payment at a designated time or in association with a designated event in the future, which payment is to be in an amount tied to the market value of an equivalent number of shares of the corporation’s stock. Thus, the amount of the payout will increase as the stock price rises, and decrease if the stock falls, but without the recipient (grantee) actually receiving any stock.
Like other forms of stock-based compensation plans, virtual stocks broadly serve to align the interests of recipients and shareholders, incent contribution to share value, and encourage the retention or continued participation of contributors. Recipients (grantees) are typically employees, but may also be directors, third-party vendors, or others.
VSOP can, but usually does not, pay dividends. When the grant is initially made, there is no tax impact. When the payout is made, however, it is taxed as ordinary income to the grantee and is deductible to the employer. Generally, phantom plans require the grantee to become vested, either through seniority or meeting a performance target.
VSOP can be taxable upon vesting, even if not paid out, if the value of the phantom shares is pegged to shares that themselves have value. For accounting purposes, VSOP is treated in the same way as deferred cash compensation. As the amount of the liability changes each year, an entry is made for the amount accrued. A decline in value would reduce the liability. These entries are not contingent on vesting.