Equal Shares vs. Valuation Units "Everyone is an Equal Partner"
(And why that doesn't work)

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by Herbert K. Barnett, Chairman, NAIC Computer Group

Equal Shares vs. Valuation Units

We frequently see clubs formed that intend to keep all members equal financial participants. On the surface, this seems like a worthwhile objective. The bookkeeping is simpler than NAIC's recommended Valuation Unit system, and everyone has an equal say in the operation of the club.

There are, however, some drawbacks that may not be evident at first, but which become serious as the club matures.

Some members pay late. Is it fair to members who always pay on time to allow others the use of their money for an additional month or more, and still grant them an equal share in the club? If you use Valuation Units, the number of units purchased depends on the value of a unit at the time the payment is received. If a member pays late, and your portfolio's valuation has increased since the last meeting, that money will buy fewer units than money invested on time at the previous meeting.

Financial emergencies do occur. If a member needs money for an unexpected emergency or special need, how does the club accommodate a partial withdrawal and still keep that member an equal partner? It can't be done. Does the club insist that they withdraw completely, even if they happen to be one of the key members? 

Some members want to increase the monthly payment. What if others can't or won't? Does the club insist that those who can't increase their payments withdraw, even if they are some of the more active members? The Valuation Unit system accommodates unequal monthly payments. Everyone should have an equal vote. Many clubs have partnership agreements that specify weighted voting based on the number of units owned, but in practice they use one vote per member. A member who disputes a result still has the option of requesting a weighted vote.

Prospective new members can't afford to join. As the club continues to grow, it becomes harder to find new members who can buy an equal share. Is it likely that a new member will be willing to make an initial investment of $20,000, $50,000, or more?

In summary, maintaining "equality" is not necessarily fair to the more conscientious members. Equal share accounting has the potential to limit growth and can threaten the continued existence of a club. In the long run, the disadvantages outweigh the perceived advantages.

The sooner an "equal shares" club switches to the Valuation Units system, the easier it is to make the transition. The NAIC Club Accounting software program provides a standardized solution, making Valuation Unit accounting relatively painless.

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