Come the holiday season, senior bankers like most other types of professionals find themselves obliged to give presents to clients or employees or both. Picking just the right gift can be a devil of a problem.
There are the usual crystal desk knickknacks, wine baskets, and novelty cuff links. Then again, a host of new products on the market may appeal even to those who have everything.
How about a crate of fine oil and vinegar on which your bank can put its own label? Or an indoor putting green featuring a sand trap and water hole? The putting green, from www.bravanta.com, costs $55, or $49.50 each if you order more than 200. (Delivery takes two to three weeks.)
The gift-giving dilemma was documented in a November survey Citibank commissioned from Roper Starch Worldwide. The none-too-surprising conclusions were that most of us dont like the presents we are given, and most harbor a nagging suspicion that other people dont like what we give them.
Of 1,000 people surveyed last month by Roper Starch, 69% said they usually get gifts they do not like or need, and 50% said it is hard for other people to buy gifts for them.
Naturally, the Citigroup Inc. subsidiary is using these alarming statistics to illustrate the need for its new online person-to-person payment service, c2it. The bank argues that cash is always a good gift presumably, whether it is sent impersonally through the Internet or palmed discreetly to the doorman in lieu of a bottle of Scotch.
Citi has even dredged up an etiquette consultant (Jodi Smith, president of a concern called Mannersmith) who says, Gift-giving is all about giving the person what they want, and sometimes what they want is money.
But then again, it is still considered a bit crass to give a crisp $20 to a valued customer or employee as a holiday thank-you. What is a well-meaning banker to do?
Beth Friedman, president and owner of Corporate Sender, a gift-procurement service in New York, recommends crystal crystal clocks, perpetual calendars something high-end, she says. Regarding another gift standby, she warns, I want to get away from baskets because people are kind of basketed to death right now.
Department heads at banks often hire her to buy a few dozen gifts for their best clients nothing under $28 will do Ms. Friedman said. But just like the people who answered Citibanks survey questions, these department heads seldom know what they want Corporate Sender to buy. They dont give us any direction at all, she sighed. They just say, Beth, this is the budget.
This year food items are particularly popular, she said. One big seller is a crate (not a basket) of fine oil and vinegar on which the bank can put its logo. Ms. Friedman said she is also doing a lot of spa and relaxation packages, which include some health and beauty products wrapped nicely in a mesh box, or, well, yes, sometimes a basket.
Nice packages are things that people keep, so theres a longer-lasting effect, she said. We try to give something that they will like and will remember the bank by.
For bankers whose budgets dont include gift buyers, the Internet is full of suggestions. How about a set of bull-and-bear cufflinks from www.bankers-collection.com? This Web site also sells a euro currency watch that bears the Swift code of your favorite European country, and a Triple A choker. The As denote the creditworthiness of your institution.
Be sure to order more than two weeks in advance these goods are being shipped from the Netherlands. (When giving the euro watch to a nonbanker, please explain that Swift stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.)
One fun, money-oriented book is Greed & Its Rewards, a coffee-table-style hardcover with a cover that features men in business suits reaching into one anothers pockets. Published Oct. 31 by a mom-and-pop firm in New York called Red Rock Press, Greed is a compilation of quotations, anecdotes, and funny stories about getting and spending.
Bankers who read this book will doubtless grow nostalgic for the pre-dot-com gold rush year of 1871 when, Greed tells us, four of the 11 richest men in San Francisco had earned their wealth at either Wells Fargo & Co. or Bank of California.
Washington Mutual Inc. has also come up with an enjoyable bankerly gift: Action Teller dolls that look like Barbie and Ken dressed up as bank tellers.
The dolls come with two sets of clothes. One is casual-Friday togs for working at the bank. (The Washington Mutual logo is on the she-dolls shirt and the he-dolls sweater.) The other is sportswear for doing volunteer work through the CAN program, which stands for committed, active neighbor. (The logo is on the dolls T-shirts.)
Each Action Teller comes with its own trading card, which mirrors the cards that real Wamu tellers carry instead of regular business cards.
We just decided to make tellers the heroes that they are, said Brad Davis, senior vice president of marketing at Washington Mutual. Were getting calls from people at other banks who want to buy them. The dolls are just flying out the door.
The idea came from a Wamu television spot. These kids are at a birthday party, and one kid gets an Action Teller for his birthday, Mr. Davis said. He is handed a second gift and says, Oh boy, I hope its a loan consultant.
Once the ads started running, customers began calling to ask how to get an Action Teller. The dolls went on sale this month and will be sold through early January, or until all 20,000 are gone.
In the executive suite, however, there are naturally situations in which a more subdued form of kitsch would be appropriate something, say, in between the crystal clock and Wamu Barbie. Many such items are for sale at the Bravanta site, which shows pages and pages of smart business gifts. Live help is just a call or a click away, so we decided to call.
David, a preternaturally friendly customer relations representative, was eager to help us find a gift for a banker in, say, the $25 to $50 range. Popular items at Bravanta, he said, include a lime green rubber radio (It gets conversations started.) and a desktop gumball machine that dispenses jelly beans (so people can get their sugar fix).
Then there is the Zen Desk Garden, which looks like a square black plate filled with sand, rocks, and a miniature rake. Useless, perhaps, but only $25. Its kind of neat and quirky, and it has some Asian overtones, David said helpfully. People are ordering that a lot. Its modeled after the one in Kyoto. I actually went there once I wouldnt say its the spitting image, but its close.