Counting the moral costs of corporate hospitality

Gill Cardy

What started off as a casual online discussion about an invitation to an awards dinner has turned into an interesting philosophical discussion, not just about whether anyone in financial services has a personality, but also about whether it is ethical to attend such a jolly given that the cost will fall to clients of the provider companies.

It is an argument with which I have a degree of sympathy, and it is the argument du jour given the FCA’s guidance on inducements. So were I actually to receive an invitation to the event in question, should I attend?

And if I do not attend, would someone else with more elastic morals be prepared to accept the freebie take my place, even if the cost eventually devolves to clients?

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The only point in boycotting such an event is if everyone boycotts the event and it is eventually cancelled.

But then that, like most other questions that seem so simple to answer, has a more complex level to consider.

If this particular event should be boycotted then every similar event should be boycotted. And then you have to ask how an awards junket is any different to a conference which is paid for entirely or mainly by product providers. Or training which is paid for or subsidised by investment or pension or platform providers?

What should we think about the various trade papers and blogs to which we contribute that are funded in whole or in part by provider money? If you label it advertising or marketing does that make it more acceptable than sponsorship, which seems sleazier?

Who among us watches rugby, tennis, football, Formula 1, horse racing, even opera? All these events are sponsored by financial services companies. Quite apart from the invitation to the corporate hospitality tent, should we switch off attendance at all such events in making our stand against companies using client money in this way, instead of (presumably) reducing product charges?

With the cost of a table at the event in question being around £4000 it is tempting to dismiss this as a trivial question. But it is not.

What is more important is that advisory firms would need to work out how much their own costs would rise if they had to pay for all the things they get that are currently free or subsidised. And any firm that pays for training or a fancy dinner is still going to pass on the costs to their clients.

Gill Cardy is network development director of ValidPath