Dual-Class Stock

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on September 07, 2023

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What Is a Dual Class Stock?

Dual-class stock refers to a type of share structure in which a company issues two or more classes of shares, each with different voting rights and dividend payments.

This structure allows company founders and insiders to maintain control over the company while raising capital from the public.

Dual-class stock structures have a long history. They were common in the early 20th century, particularly among family-controlled businesses.

Over time, they fell out of favor due to concerns about unequal voting rights.

However, in recent years, they have made a resurgence, particularly in the tech industry. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Snapchat have all gone public with dual-class structures, reigniting debate over their use.

How Dual-Class Stock Works

Voting and Non-Voting Shares

In a dual-class stock structure, voting shares, often referred to as Class A shares, have one or more votes per share. Non-voting shares, or Class B shares, have no voting rights or very limited ones.

This division allows the controlling group to retain a majority of the voting power while owning a minority of the company's total equity.

Reasons for Issuing Dual-Class Stock

First, it helps founders and management to maintain control, especially during the company's growth phase or during volatile times. Second, it can also be a useful tool to attract investors without giving up control of the company.

How Companies Implement Dual-Class Stock Structure

Implementing a dual-class stock structure generally involves adjusting the company's articles of incorporation to define the rights and privileges of each class of shares. Typically, this includes outlining the voting rights, dividend rights, and rights upon the dissolution of the company.

Legal and Regulatory Aspects

US Securities Laws and Regulations

Federal securities laws allow dual class shares in the United States. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has expressed concerns about their use, particularly in relation to initial public offerings (IPOs).

The SEC has proposed rules to increase transparency around dual class shares, but these have yet to be finalized.

International Regulatory Landscape

Internationally, the regulatory landscape for dual class shares varies. In the United Kingdom, for example, dual-class shares are generally not permitted on the premium segment of the London Stock Exchange.

However, recent rule changes in Hong Kong and Singapore have allowed companies with dual-class structures to list on their stock exchanges.

Benefits of Dual-Class Stock

Retaining Control for Founders and Management

This structure offers an effective way to shield the company from short-term pressures often exerted by the market or certain types of investors. The management can remain focused on the company's long-term goals, and the founders can preserve their vision.

This can be especially beneficial in the early stages of a company's development when rapid growth and changes often require strong, consistent leadership.

Potential for Long-Term Strategic Decisions

Since the management doesn't need to satisfy the demands of a broad group of shareholders looking for quick returns, they have more latitude to make strategic investments, focus on research and development, or enter new markets.

For instance, many technology companies with dual-class structures have been able to innovate and transform their industries precisely because of this freedom.

Enhanced Protection Against Hostile Takeovers

In a standard one-share-one-vote system, any entity acquiring enough shares can gain control of a company. However, with dual-class stocks, where voting power is concentrated with a particular group (usually management), hostile takeovers become much more challenging.

This structure ensures the company can stay true to its mission and goals without the constant threat of being taken over.

Attracting Investment Without Diluting Control

By issuing non-voting or limited-voting shares to the public, companies can attract investment that can be used for expansion, research and development, or other business-enhancing projects.

This structure is particularly attractive for companies in their growth phase, where capital influx is essential, but diluting control can alter the company's strategic course.

It offers a win-win situation where investors can participate in the company's financial success, but the strategic direction stays firmly in the hands of those who have the company's long-term interests at heart.

Drawbacks of Dual-Class Stock

Potential for Misalignment of Interests

Since the controlling shareholders often hold most of the voting rights, they might make decisions that primarily benefit themselves, potentially at the expense of other shareholders.

For example, they may approve strategies that increase their control or financial gains but do not necessarily optimize the company's overall value.

Such a situation can lead to conflicts, reduce shareholder trust, and negatively impact the company's reputation and market valuation.

Limited Rights for Minority Shareholders

This restriction curtails their influence on critical company decisions, such as appointing board members, approving mergers and acquisitions, or other strategic directives.

Minority shareholders, therefore, might feel disenfranchised, leading to dissatisfaction and even potential legal disputes. Such a structure might also make the company less attractive to certain types of investors who value shareholder democracy and equal voting rights.

Market Perception and Reaction

While some investors are attracted by the possibility of high returns and the opportunity to invest in companies that might not have otherwise gone public, others are wary of the reduced shareholder rights.

Large institutional investors, such as pension funds or mutual funds, often shy away from dual-class shares due to their commitment to strong corporate governance practices.

Negative market perception can impact the company's stock price, increase its cost of capital, and limit its pool of potential investors.

Limited Accountability of Management

This lack of accountability can lead to decision-making that is not in the best interest of the company or all its shareholders.

Without checks and balances in place, there is a risk of management entrenchment, poor strategic decisions, and even unethical practices. In the long term, these issues can lead to lower market confidence, legal challenges, and a decrease in the company's value.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Dual-Class Stocks

Dual Class Stock in Public Companies

Notable Examples

Several high-profile companies have dual class structures. Google, for example, has Class A shares with one vote per share and Class B shares with ten votes per share. Facebook has a similar structure, with Mark Zuckerberg maintaining control through Class B shares.

Performance Evaluation

Research on the performance of companies with dual-class structures is mixed. Some studies have found that they outperform their peers, while others have found the opposite.

Dual Class Stock in Private Companies

Suitability Analysis

Private companies can also use dual-class shares, particularly those considering an IPO. The decision to use a dual-class structure should be based on carefully analyzing the company's needs and the potential impact on future public offerings.

Impact on Future Public Offering

If a private company with a dual-class structure decides to go public, it may face resistance from investors and listing services like the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

These entities have rules surrounding dual-class shares and may require the company to adopt a single-class structure or restrict the voting power of Class B shares.

Best Practices With Dual-Class Stock

Transparency and Fairness in Decision-Making

Given the inherent imbalance of power, transparency can help build trust and avert potential conflicts among shareholders.

Transparent practices might include regularly publishing detailed reports on the company's operations, finances, and strategic decisions, and ensuring that all shareholders have equal access to this information.

Furthermore, the board and management should strive for fairness by considering the interests of all shareholders when making decisions, not just those of the controlling group.

Maintaining a Balance in Voting Rights

An extreme imbalance could lead to poor governance, potential legal issues, and negative market perception. One way to maintain balance is through sunset provisions.

These provisions set conditions under which high-voting shares automatically convert to low-voting shares, thus gradually rebalancing voting power. Conditions might include a certain time period, the sale of a founder's shares, or the founder's departure from the company.

Regular Communication With Shareholders

By clearly communicating the company's performance, strategic direction, and other key information, companies can ensure that shareholders feel informed and involved, even if they don't have significant voting power.

Communication can occur through shareholder letters, regular meetings, and clear and comprehensive disclosure in financial reports.

Provisions for Conversion to Single-Class Stock

These scenarios could include the departure of a founder, a significant shift in the company's strategy, or changing market or regulatory conditions.

Having a well-defined plan in place for such conversions can ensure a smooth transition that protects the interests of all shareholders and the company's market position.

This plan might include specific triggers for conversion, a process for carrying out the conversion, and communication strategies for informing shareholders about the change.


Dual-class stock structures raise capital while maintaining control. While they fell out of favor in the past, their benefits include founders retaining control, the ability to make long-term strategic decisions, and protection against hostile takeovers.

However, drawbacks such as potential misalignment of interests, limited rights for minority shareholders, market perception concerns, and reduced management accountability should be considered.

Notable companies like Google and Facebook have implemented dual-class structures, and their performance has shown mixed results compared to their peers.

Private companies considering an IPO should carefully assess the suitability and impact of dual-class shares on future public offerings.

Best practices for dual-class stock include transparent decision-making, maintaining a balance in voting rights, regular communication with shareholders, and provisions for conversion to single-class stock.

Regulatory aspects surrounding dual-class stock vary across jurisdictions, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States has expressed concerns and proposed transparency rules.

Dual-Class Stock FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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