MEETING PROFESSIONALS AND hospitality suppliers beware: It may be better not to give…or receive. The ethical microscope trained on the financial services industry has focused on the gifting practices of mutual fund companies, and that focus could very well widen to include the appropriateness of gift-giving to meeting planners.
“We are aware of instances of lavish gifts being bestowed upon fund officials and traders,” says John Nester, a spokesman for the Securities and Exchange Commission. The concern, Nester says, is that these gift-giving practices are being used to win business, and they end up compromising a mutual fund company's ability to work in the best interests of investors.
The kinds of gifts involved include golf outings, Super Bowl tickets, and expensive wine, Nester says, all of which are “well in excess” of a regulation prohibiting firms from giving more than $100 in gifts to business associates over the course of one year.
As of late December, the gifting practices of more than 20 financial services firms were under review by the SEC and the NASD, a securities industry regulatory body. Whether or not industry meeting planning departments will come under scrutiny remains to be seen, but it's clearly an area that should be on planners' radar screens.
“Times have changed,” says Lynne Schueler, assistant director, meeting planning services, Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, Iowa. “This is a hot topic with our senior execs right now.” She stresses that suppliers need to know that while sending a gift “is not going to influence my decision-making,” it could put a meeting planner in a compromising position. “A lot of companies have gifting policies,” Schueler explains. “When a hotel sends planners a proposal, they shouldn't include a $100 spa basket. It's not worth us losing our jobs — or worth the perception of our department getting those perks.”