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The Professionals' Forum

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The ESOP Association's Professionals' Forum is the only event of its kind: a meeting designed exclusively for high-level professionals who provide technical, financial, and legal assistance to ESOP companies. The Forum is a unique opportunity for professionals to gather with their peers for a collaborative learning experience. And because the Forum is a meeting of professionals for professionals, you can take full advantage of our programming without the pressure of servicing or attending to client needs at our larger, national events.

New Format Draws Record Attendance at The ESOP Association’s Professionals’ Forum

Professionals Forum 2024 Draft Regulation Discussions

In February, The ESOP Association held its annual Professionals’ Forum in New Orleans, which featured an unveiling of the Association’s latest advocacy effort and lively discussions on the most critical ESOP issues.  The Forum, the only event of its kind, serves a key role as a high-level discussion venue, sounding board, and learning experience for ESOP professionals.

A record number of more than 350 participants engaged in a revamped format that hearkened back to the purpose for which the Forum was born decades ago.  In addition to the usual general sessions for all attendees, breakout sessions were held to promote vibrant discussion and debate on key issues facing the ESOP community.  Those topics included contributory ESOPs, non-stock assets in ESOPs, and stock appreciation rights, while other sessions involved the effects of inflation on valuation, ESOP releveraging, and ESOP participant communications.  The new breakout session format was a welcome opportunity for attendees to dive deep on select topics that will help drive best practices in the ESOP community, while a renewed focus on an open, participatory forum proved valuable for both seasoned experts and newer professionals. 

The major highlight of the Professionals’ Forum was the initial release of a model regulation by The ESOP Association on the issue of adequate consideration.  The Department of Labor has been directed by Congress to promulgate a formal rulemaking on this matter, as enacted into law by the SECURE 2.0 Act.  Adequate consideration – what defines the good faith, fair market value of a company for purchase by its employees – is a vitally important matter for both existing and potential ESOPs.  However, since ERISA’s passage into law in 1974, the DOL has never defined this key matter, resulting in uncertainty, inconsistent regulation, and lawsuits.  Since SECURE 2.0’s passage in December of 2022, The ESOP Association has assembled a diverse and experienced team of legal experts and ESOP professionals to draft a version that it believes should be the model for the Department of Labor. 

As Jim Bonham, the Association’s President and CEO, stated, “being able to describe and articulate to the Department of Labor what we, as the regulated community, want to see this proposed rule look like is merely ‘table stakes’ for being part of the discussions at the Department.”  He continued, “After discussion and thoughts from the assembled ESOP professional community, and with the support of the Association’s Board of Directors, we will transmit this to the White House, the Department of Labor, and to Congress for consideration and to inform the ongoing discussion about this important rule.” 

The ESOP Association’s draft regulation for adequate consideration, our transmittal letter to key U.S. government stakeholders, and press release can all be found on the Association’s website.  

The Professionals’ Forum also includes meetings of the Association’s six Professional Advisory Committees.  These committees spent significant time examining and surfacing new issues, engaging on potential topics for ESOP Report articles, and even working to update some of the rules and qualifications around service on the Professional Advisory Committees.  The Committee Chairs deserve our thanks and appreciation for their work putting together these portions of the Forum and making them worthwhile for attendees. 

A recent and successful addition to our Professionals’ Forum is dedicated programming for younger ESOP professionals titled “ESOP Talks.” ESOP Talks is a forum for early-career ESOP professionals to network and explore issues related to their development, and is intentionally designed for discussion, education, and networking for those 40 and under.  The nearly 40 young professional attendees attended sessions that included Effective Ways to Share Information and Knowledge with Clients, Leveraging Your Firm and How to Build Your Internal Networks, and Methods of Communication Technology.  

Speaking of networking, Professionals’ Forum attendees also enjoyed opportunities to gather and have fun in the Big Easy as well, as the conference welcome reception on Thursday was a springboard for dinners and events around a city known for its unique cuisine and hospitality. Thank you to all of our professionals who attended this year’s Forum, and we look forward to seeing everyone at TEA’s National Conference in Washington, DC in May.