Diwali is not the only time that one gets gifts. New year is a good time too! Giveaways, gifts, freebies, promos, diaries, calendars. Every year around this time, it pours in: the pens with corporate logos, chocolates, pendrives, etc. etc.

The Christian name of all this is: Bribe. Subtle or otherwise. “Just a pen, Subra” …Just a X, subra – it does not matter. Or does it?

As a recipient should one worry about the value of the gift? If it REALLY does not matter, should it really matter? Well, well.

However small, a gift is a gift, is a gift. It does cause a shift in the mind. If 5 mutual funds send me a gift does it really matter? How do I deal with these 5 vis a vis the other 37 funds? Does my recall improve? Do I suddenly start writing about a fund about which I actually have no genuine feeling or fondness? Or does performance take priority?

Sometimes when you meet a fund manager – the negative impact stays far longer and the overwhelming numerical proof is just ignored. Explained away as “something about this fund manager that I do not like” – impossible to quantify.

Taking gifts like taking abuse from your partner. It never starts with brandishing a knife. It starts by calling names, blaming your parents, your school, your friends. Then it is slap. Oops sorry ‘I was drunk’. Then another slap, this time not so drunk. Then the things are flung. Then the tell tale marks. At that stage – after 12 years of the first abuse, the partner is stunned that you are objecting. After all you did not object when the partner abused you.

You should have stopped abuse on day 1.

Now relate this to gifts. First a small gift. A diary. A notebook. A pen. Scrap paper. Tee shirt.

Aw come on, you cannot be bought, right? And if you cannot be bought, you SURELY cannot be bought for such a small price. But you were subtly influenced. In your writing. When you spoke at a public function. Then more gifts, from more people. Like a frog in the hot water, you never realized when the value went up. A trip to Goa. Stay…hmm…Leela. ‘Sir, the hotel just upgraded you’. Just like the airline did  few hours earlier. The more you take, the more you expect!!

Then the PR agency calls you for a meet. Sir ‘Its a paid meet’. You feel honored. After all, they are respecting your time, are they not? How does a nice fat fee look like? Well, well who said ‘man is a rationalising animal – can I claim originality please? So the nice fat fees got rationalized. Great.

Let me remind you the Christian name? BRIBE.

I know one businessman who invited a few Gov officers for a ‘puja’ in his house. The take away gift was a silver plate. A few silver plates had a gold coin stuck on that. I know a few officers who returned the plate. Obviously many did not.

In 1988 I was offered ‘Concurrent Audit’ by an industrialist for a fee 3X of what I would have charged. I was thrilled. I was all of 25 years of age. I spoke to a 50 year old lawyer, and he taught me to distinguish between ‘a fee’ and ‘a bribe’. I stunned by refusing saying ‘no time’. Actually when you know that there is something wrong, your mind knows it, therefore you ask.

When you get a gift, you return it. End of story. I know if you did it you will be called arrogant. However, I am sure you have no clue what they say about people who keep the gift!! Returning is more honorable. The obviously natural feeling is that in order to be corrupting, a gift has to be valuable “enough” to make you feel you owe the giver something equally valuable in return. This is what a company says:

“XYZ employees should not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any payment, loan, service, equipment, or any other benefit or thing of value, or any gift, entertainment, or reimbursement of expenses of more than nominal value or that exceeds customary courtesies for that time and place from suppliers or customers, or from any company, individual, or institution that furnishes or seeks to furnish news, information, material, equipment, supplies, or services to XYZ, or from anyone else with an actual or prospective business relationship with XYZ. 

Right now the value is held at US $ 50. said the CFO. Great.

In my mind free food, a pat from the CXO,  a tweet, a recommendation – all of them are just as corrupting. Keeping your feet firmly on the ground is so important. A CEO, prodded by the home work done by his staff started by saying “Subra I am a part of the fan club of Subramoney.com”. Hmm I enjoyed my 22 seconds in the stratosphere and came down to earth. Sorry, even that was an attempted bribe in my head. At 26 if I could identify a bribe, at 55  I should have just improved, right? Integrity means distinguishing right from wrong and doing the right thing.

Most high pressure sales are done over lunch and wine in a nice ambience – where you are invited with your cheque book, given a 2 day/3 night FREE trip to Goa and enrolled as a salesman for their portfolio management, timeshare, dealership….what have you! Why, then, do people (like ME!) – who are angered at the very idea of free-lunch investment seminars see nothing wrong with accepting free food themselves? No clue, search me. I drop in regularly for ‘free’ coffee, lunch, etc. but no spirits or meat.

Most of us consider gifts costing less than US $ 50 as ‘acceptable’ I guess lunch is comfortably within that budget. Or maybe it is from a company which is not in your line at all. Like me getting a free lunch in a pharma company, shoe company, or Chairman of an agglomerate where I am a piddly shareholder. In fact I considered the lunch expense as a dividend. No, the Chairman does not know that I am a shareholder. Was it a bribe? Well, they got NOTHING in return for sure. Still, I must say I must have been influenced subtly for sure.

If you step into an adviser’s office (medical or financial) and find a lot of branded gifts, be alert. He may not know that he is biased.

I once had an RM sacked for displaying gifts of a MF on his bank desk. Oops I have done that too.




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  1. The value of gifts, cannot exceed USD 50$ cumulative for entire year. This also applies to peers like subordinate s and co workers. Boss to employees, employee to employees.

  2. Thanks for providing clarity on the issue. Though man is rational, many times he doesn’t know that he is biased.

  3. What i am saying here is very general…

    Things will come to you.
    It will stay with you until YOU try to hold it.
    Letting something go is a move towards Nirvana…

    Every thing belongs to you and you belong to every thing.

    A few are blessed…
    A few are cursed…
    A few are in between…

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