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Sometimes our vendors and customers bring gifts to our employees during the holidays. Some gifts have only a nominal value, such as small trinkets like mousepads or $25 gift cards. Others, such as expensive crystal vases or concert tickets are more extravagant. What are the limitations on gifts to bank employees?

Gifts from customers and clients during the holidays are customary in most businesses. For banks, these gifts can present a challenge. Under the Bank Bribery Act, it is a felony to solicit or accept anything of value from anyone relating to the business of the bank.

The bribery law generally prohibits any employee, officer, director, agent, or attorney of a bank from soliciting for themselves or for a third party (other than the bank itself) anything of value in return for any business, service, or confidential information of the bank. It also generally prohibits them from accepting anything of value (other than bona fide salary, wages, and allowable fees) from anyone in connection with the business of the bank, either before or after a transaction is discussed or consummated.

Guidelines published by the federal banking agencies describe permissible exceptions for a bank official to accept something of value from someone doing or seeking to do business with the bank. The guidelines state that a bank's policy may allow employees to accept small tokens of appreciation from vendors or customers – particularly during the holiday season. Banks should describe in their Code of Conduct, or another written policy, appropriate exceptions to the general rule against accepting things of value.

The most common examples of permissible gifts are business luncheons or special occasion gifts from a customer. According to the guidelines, permissible exceptions include:

  • Acceptance of gifts, gratuities, amenities, or favors based on obvious family or personal relationships (such as those between the parents, children, or spouse of a bank official) where the circumstances make it clear that it is the relationship, rather than the business of the bank concerned, which is the motivating factor.
  • Acceptance of meals, refreshments, entertainment, accommodations, and travel arrangements, if of reasonable value, in the course of a meeting or other occasion the purpose of which is to hold bona fide business discussions or to foster better business relations, provided that the bank would pay the expense as a reasonable business expense if not paid for by another party. The bank may establish a specific dollar limit for such occasions.
  • Acceptance of advertising or promotional material of reasonable value, such as pens, pencils, note pads, key chains, calendars, and similar items.
  • Acceptance of discounts or rebates on merchandise or services that do not exceed those available to others.
  • Acceptance of gifts of reasonable value that are related to commonly recognized events or occasions, such as a promotion, new job, wedding, retirement, holiday or birthday. The bank may establish a specific dollar limit for such gifts.
  • Acceptance of civic, charitable, educational, or religious organization awards for recognition of service and accomplishment. The bank may establish a specific dollar limit for such awards.

Generally, a bank's Code of Conduct will spell out what is acceptable. The bank may also allow acceptance of other items on a case-by-case basis. In that case, approval should be in writing with a full written disclosure of all relevant facts associated with the item of value. (December 2016)

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