Whatever happened to the hampers?

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Receiving a casket of foie gras, champagne and mince pies could cost you your reputation - and at worst your job.

Festive hampers, once essential to lubricating the wheels of client relations, are being outlawed by compliance.

"The old ways are being challenged by the new rules," says David Charters, a former Deutsche Bank managing director turned author. "Banks are tightening up on gifts which could be construed as intending to buy influence with the recipient. If something's worth more than 50 or so, you now have to disclose it to compliance or put it into a charity auction."

As with any rule, there are ways to bend it. The usual method is to understate the value of gifts so that they fall below the threshold, a practice which applies as much to World Cup tickets as luxury hampers. "The cost written on the ticket often looks reasonable, but the reality can be very different," says one senior DCM banker.

Stephen Burke, a director of compliance consultancy IMS warns against this practice, however. "Individuals need to be aware of the true value of what they're receiving and to be forthright in disclosure. Otherwise they may end up breaching their terms of employment and lying to your employer."

The adverse consequences of being a very big gift-giver (or receiver) were illustrated last week in the US, where Kevin Quinn, a banker at Jefferies, was sacked and fined US$468k by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for treating Fidelity traders to private flights, subsidised bachelor parties (to the tune of US$75k), golf outings and trips to Wimbledon.

Quinn has been banned from the Securities Industry for life. His may be an extreme case, but hampers are the first step on that slippery slope. Forego that foie gras, or live to regret it.

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