Malcolm ZoppiSun Oct 15 2023

Share Purchase Agreement vs Share Transfer Agreement: Key Differences Explained

Explore key distinctions and practical implications about SPA’s and STA’s!

Share Purchase Agreement vs Share Transfer Agreement: Key Differences Explained

Share Purchase Agreement vs Share Transfer Agreement

When dealing with the acquisition or transfer of shares in a company, it’s important to understand the difference between a share purchase agreement (SPA) and a share transfer agreement. An SPA is a legal contract that outlines the terms and conditions for buying or selling shares in a company. It is a legal document that is commonly used when the entire share capital or a substantial portion of it is being transferred, and includes details such as the purchase price, warranties and representations given by the seller.

On the other hand, a share transfer agreement is used when shares are being transferred between two shareholders of a company, or between two affiliated corporations. This type of agreement is more limited in scope compared to an SPA, as it mainly addresses the specific terms of the transfer and does not typically include comprehensive warranties and indemnities. It’s essential to choose the appropriate type of shares transfer agreement, based on the circumstances of the transaction, as it could have significant legal and financial implications.

Key Takeaways

  • Share purchase agreements are used for buying or selling significant portions of a company’s shares, while share transfer agreements facilitate transfers between shareholders or affiliated corporations.
  • Share purchase agreements typically include detailed terms and conditions, including warranties and indemnities, whereas share transfer agreements are more limited in scope.
  • Choosing the correct agreement type is crucial for ensuring a smooth transaction and mitigating legal and financial risks.

Understanding Share Purchase Agreements

Key Elements of a Share Purchase Agreement

A share purchase agreement (SPA) is a legally binding contract between a buyer and seller, wherein the seller agrees to sell a specific number of shares in a company to the buyer under certain terms and conditions. SPAs are crucial for transactions involving the sale of shares as they manifest the mutual written agreement of both the parties involved.

In a share purchase agreement, several key elements of shareholders agreement are outlined, such as the identities of the buyer and seller, the shares being sold, the sale price, and payment terms. Additionally, the agreement may contain warranties, indemnities, and restrictive covenants to protect the buyer’s interests.

Warranties are representations made by the seller regarding the company’s state, including its assets, liabilities, and business operations. Indemnities are provisions where the whole agreement proves the seller agrees to compensate the buyer for any losses arising from a breach of warranties or other issues related to the company. Restrictive covenants are clauses preventing the seller from competing with the company or divulging confidential information post-transaction.

Due diligence is a critical process as well, where the buyer investigates the business assets of target company to evaluate potential risks and confirm the accuracy of information provided by the seller. It generally encompasses financial, legal, and operational assessments.

Benefits and Risks of Share Purchase Agreements

Share purchase agreements have numerous benefits for both buyers and sellers. For the buyer, acquiring shares in the company allows them to gain control and ownership of the business without taking on its liabilities, unlike an asset purchase. Buyers also benefit from the seller’s warranties and indemnities, which provide protection against potential risks or hidden issues.

For the seller, a share purchase agreement offers a clean break from the company, as they’re merely transferring their share ownership. This can result in reduced tax liabilities compared to an asset sale. Sellers also have the opportunity to negotiate the sale price and payment terms, ensuring they receive a fair value for their shares.

However, share purchase agreements also come with risks. Buyers must be careful while conducting due diligence, as overlooking critical information could lead to a bad investment or unforeseen liabilities. The scope and effectiveness of warranties and indemnities may also be subject to negotiation in future disputes, so buyers should seek professional advice from corporate solicitors when drafting these clauses.

Sellers face the risk of potential disputes or litigation arising from warranties and indemnities. It’s essential for them to be transparent with the buyer, providing accurate information about the business. Moreover, restrictive covenants might limit the seller’s future business activities, which should be considered during negotiations.

Understanding share purchase agreements is crucial for both buyers and sellers in a share transaction. By being aware of the key elements, benefits, and risks involved, you can make informed decisions and ensure a successful sale or acquisition of shares.

Concept of Share Transfer Agreement

A Share Transfer Agreement is a legally binding contract between the buyer and seller of shares in a private company, setting out the terms and conditions associated with the transfer of ownership. It is often used to regulate the buying and selling of shares between two parties in a clear, concise way, while addressing the various interests and concerns minority shareholders involved in the transaction.

Structuring a Share Transfer Agreement

When drafting a Share Transfer Agreement, it is essential to consider the following key elements:

  • Parties: Clearly outline the buyer(s) and seller(s) involved in the transaction, including their contact information and any legal representation.
  • Shares being transferred: Specify the number of shares, class and rights attached to the shares being transferred.
  • Sale price and payment terms: Outline the agreed sale price and any payment terms, such as upfront payment, instalments or deferred consideration.
  • Warranties and liabilities: Clearly state any warranties provided by the seller(s) to the buyer(s), and the liabilities taken on by each party. Warranties can cover various matters like the company’s financial position, litigation, employment contracts, and property leases.
  • Conditions precedent: Detail any conditions that must be fulfilled before the transfer of shares can be completed, such as obtaining consents or waivers from other shareholders, or obtaining regulatory approvals like those from the competition authorities.
  • Completion and timetable: Set out the completion date for the transaction and any related timetable, including for due diligence and satisfaction of any conditions precedent.

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Implications of Share Transfer Agreements

The execution of a Share Transfer Agreement leads to several implications for all involved parties:

  • Change in ownership: The transfer will result in a change in the company’s ownership structure, potentially impacting the relationship between existing shareholders and the company’s management.
  • Rights and obligations of the shareholders: The new shareholder(s) will have rights and obligations that correspond to the shares they acquire, which may include voting rights, dividend entitlements, and pre-emption rights.
  • Tax implications: The sale and purchase of shares may attract tax liabilities for both the buyer(s) and seller(s), depending on factors such as the jurisdiction and specific transaction terms.
  • Confidentiality and restrictive covenants: The agreement may include clauses addressing confidentiality and possibly also restrictive covenants (e.g., non-competition or non-solicitation clauses) related to the transaction and the parties’ ongoing relationship post-transfer.
  • Indemnities: The Share Transfer Agreement may also provide for indemnities from the seller to the buyer in relation to certain pre-defined losses arising from inaccuracies in or breaches of the warranties or other provisions of the agreement.

It is vital to seek professional advice from a corporate solicitor when drafting and entering into a Share Transfer Agreement in order to ensure your interests are protected, risks are minimised, and the transaction is executed in a legally compliant manner.

Comparing Share Purchase and Share Transfer Agreements

Similarities between Share Purchase and Share Transfer Agreements

Both Share Purchase Agreements (SPAs) and Share Transfer Agreements (STAs) are legal documents used in buying or selling shares in a company. They provide a framework for the transaction, defining the rights and obligations of each party involved in investment process. While the circumstances in which they are used may differ, both agreements share some common features.

  • Legal basis: Both SPAs and STAs serve as legally binding contracts, ensuring that the parties adhere to their respective rights and responsibilities during the transaction. This provides protection and recourse for both the buyer and the seller.
  • Transfer of ownership: Both agreements involve the transfer of shares from the seller to the buyer, effectively changing the ownership of the company’s shares. This process is done in accordance with UK law and corporate governance rules.
  • Key provisions: Both SPAs and STAs need to include essential provisions, such as details of the parties, the number and class of shares being transferred, the purchase price, payment terms, and any conditions precedent. These provisions help to facilitate a smooth and legally compliant transaction.

Differences between Share Purchase and Share Transfer Agreements

Despite some similarities, there are notable differences between SPAs and STAs that reflect their distinct purposes and the specific circumstances in which each agreement is used.

  • Scope of transaction: An SPA typically covers the entire sale of a company, i.e., buying 100% or a significant portion of its shares. In contrast, an STA is often used when transferring a smaller percentage of shares between shareholders or affiliated companies.
  • Warranties and indemnities: SPAs typically include comprehensive warranties and indemnities provisions, which protect the buyer from any undisclosed liabilities or inaccurate representations about the company’s financial standing, assets and operations. STAs, on the other hand, usually have fewer or lighter warranties and indemnities provisions since these transactions tend to be between parties with a closer relationship or better knowledge of the company’s affairs.
  • Complexity: SPAs tend to be more complex and lengthy than STAs, given the broader scope of the transaction and the need for extensive warranties, indemnities, and other protective mechanisms. STAs are typically shorter and with fewer provisions as they often involve a more straightforward share transfer between parties.

In summary, while both Share Purchase and Share Transfer Agreements share some similarities, the differences between them reflect distinct purposes and transaction contexts. Understanding these distinctions is essential for ensuring that the appropriate agreement is used, and for achieving a successful and legally compliant transaction.

Legal and Practical Considerations

Implications for Buyers and Sellers

When dealing with share purchase agreements (SPAs) and share transfer agreements, it is crucial to understand the legal and practical implications for both buyers and sellers. In the context of a SPA, you are essentially purchasing the shares of a company, while a share transfer agreement involves the transfer of the shares of the company from one individual or entity to another.

As a buyer in a share purchase, you are acquiring the target company’s assets and liabilities, which means you should conduct thorough due diligence to ensure you understand the company’s financial and legal standings. This process may involve reviewing financial statements, assessing potential liabilities, and evaluating legal risks, among other factors.

On the other hand, as a seller of intellectual property rights, your primary concern is to negotiate favourable terms in the SPA, including the sale price and any warranties and indemnities. You should also engage a lawyer to help negotiate and draft the agreement while ensuring compliance with relevant UK laws and regulations.

Understanding Due Diligence

Due diligence is a critical aspect of any share agreement, whether it be a purchase or transfer. In the context of a SPA, buyers will conduct due diligence to evaluate the assets, liabilities, and legal risks associated with the target company. This process usually involves analysing financial records, reviewing contracts and agreements, and examining regulatory compliance, among other tasks.

For share transfer agreements, due diligence may be less extensive, as the focus of entire agreement is on the transfer of shares between parties rather than the acquisition of an entire company. However, it is still important for both the buyer and seller to ensure a proper understanding of the company’s financial and legal standing to avoid potential issues down the line.

The importance of due diligence cannot be overstated. It is the foundation of responsible decision-making. By conducting due diligence, individuals and organizations can identify potential issues that might arise post-transaction and take necessary steps to mitigate them. This process also helps in negotiating better terms, ensuring compliance with regulations, and building trust among involved parties.

Due diligence is particularly crucial in complex situations like mergers and acquisitions. In these scenarios, both parties need to thoroughly understand the other’s financial, operational, and legal standing to ensure compatibility and a smooth transition. It’s not just about what is presented on the surface; due diligence uncovers the underlying details that might have a significant impact on the success of the deal.

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Real estate transactions are another area where due diligence is paramount. Potential buyers need to ensure that the property they’re interested in is free from legal disputes, has a clear title, and is not burdened by hidden environmental issues. Failure to conduct proper due diligence in real estate can lead to costly legal battles and financial losses.

In the realm of investments, due diligence helps investors assess the potential risks and rewards of various opportunities. Startups seeking funding, for instance, undergo due diligence processes by potential investors to validate their business model, technology, market potential, and growth prospects.

In either scenario, it is advisable to engage a lawyer with experience in the UK regulatory and legal landscape to help guide you through the due diligence process efficiently and ensure accurate assessment of all the shareholders and relevant legal and practical considerations. This will provide you with the confidence and knowledge needed to make informed decisions in relation to your share agreement transactions.


In summary, both share purchase agreements and share transfer agreements play essential roles in business transactions. Understanding the differences between these two types of agreements is vital to ensure the appropriate documentation is used for your desired outcome.

A share subscription agreement or purchase agreement typically involves the sale and purchase of shares in a company between a buyer and seller, whereas a share transfer agreement occurs between shareholders of a company, usually in a transfer of ownership between affiliates. Share purchase agreements often contain comprehensive representations, warranties, covenants, and indemnification provisions, whereas share transfer agreements may be less intricate.

As you navigate the world of business transactions, it is crucial to familiarise yourself with these agreements and seek professional legal advice when needed. This will not only improve the efficiency of your transactions but also safeguard your interests and intellectual property and protect you from potential legal disputes.

Remember that while this article provides an overview and a general understanding of these agreements, each transaction is unique. Therefore, consulting a legal professional to clarify any uncertainties and tailor the agreements to suit your or group company) specific requirements is always a prudent approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key differences between SPA and STA?

A Share Purchase Agreement (SPA) is a legally binding contract between a buyer and a seller for the transfer of company shares. In an SPA, the buyer acquires ownership and control of the whole or part of the company. Share Transfer Agreement (STA), on the other hand, is a simpler agreement between two parties for transferring shares between shareholders or between companies. While an SPA includes comprehensive representations, warranties, covenants and indemnification provisions, an STA contains fewer clauses and may be suitable for simpler transactions.

How do the parties’ rights and obligations differ in these agreements?

In an SPA, both parties have rights and obligations to ensure a successful transaction. The seller provides warranties, representations, and indemnities to the buyer, who in turn pays the agreed consideration. The buyer is also responsible for due diligence. An STA requires the transferor to transfer the shares and the transferee to pay the agreed consideration. The terms and obligations in an STA are generally less comprehensive as the parties may already have a relationship and understand the business.

Which agreement should be used for different transaction types?

An SPA is typically used for transactions involving the purchase of the entire or a majority of shares in a company, leading to a change in ownership and control. It’s suitable for complex transactions where the buyer requires protection with warranties and indemnities. An STA is more appropriate for straightforward shareholder transactions among existing shareholders or between affiliated companies, where the transfer of a minority of shares does not lead to a change in control of the business.

How do the representations and warranties vary between SPA and STA?

An SPA contains more detailed and extensive representations and warranties covering various aspects of the company’s business, including its financial status, assets, liabilities, and operations. These clauses aim to protect the buyer, who relies on the information provided by the seller to make an informed decision. In contrast, an STA typically contains fewer representations and warranties, as the parties may already be familiar with the business being transferred.

What are the tax implications of each agreement?

Tax implications for an SPA and an STA vary depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of each transaction. In an SPA, the buyer may inherit tax liabilities associated with the acquired shares, while an STA may trigger capital gains tax, stamp duty or other transaction-related taxes. It’s important to consult with tax and legal advisors to understand the tax implications before entering into either agreement.

What role does due diligence play in both agreements?

Due diligence plays a significant role in an SPA, as the buyer must verify the information provided by the seller prior to completing the transaction. This process helps the buyer identify potential risks and liabilities associated with the shares. As a result, due diligence is more extensive and time-consuming in an SPA. In contrast, due diligence in an STA may be less intensive and focused on verifying the shares being transferred and the terms of the transfer, since the parties may already have detailed knowledge of the business and the shares being transferred.

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Disclaimer: This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. You should always seek independent professional advice and not rely on the content of this document as every individual circumstance is unique. Additionally, this document is not intended to prejudge the legal, financial or tax position of any person.

Disclaimer: This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. You should always seek independent professional advice and not rely on the content of this document as every individual circumstance is unique. Additionally, this document is not intended to prejudge the legal, financial or tax position of any person.

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Get the specialist support you need

Whether you require specialised knowledge for your business or personal affairs, Gaffney Zoppi can support you.