Step up, step up ... gold-plated mahjong sets, televisions, mobile phones and even new cars are on offer to Hong Kong investors young and old. But be quick as the Securities and Futures Commission, from September, will ban banks, brokers, fund houses and investment advisers from offering such gifts to promote investment products. The ban is a result of the Lehman minibond fiasco when over 20,000 disgruntled investors complained about being misled by banks or brokers about the risks of the products issued or guaranteed by Lehman Brothers. Some investors were offered supermarket coupons when they bought the minibonds, leading to concern they were swayed by the 'freebies' and did not think the investment through properly. But are investors really attracted to such incentives? Our brokerage friends say the answer is yes, particularly retail investors. According to industry veterans, brokerage firms seldom offered gifts before 2003. At the time the minimum brokerage commission rule was in force and such gifts would have been frowned upon as a soft subsidy. But after the abolition of the minimum commission, brokers were free to offer some incentives as competition for clients heated up. More importantly, banks also stepped up efforts to expand their securities trading business, particularly the marketing techniques applied in the credit card business where freebies such as free coupons were common. This added pressure for brokerage houses to follow suit and the gift lists became longer and longer - to name a few, we have seen some brokerage houses offer gold coins, crystal or gold-plated mahjong sets, TV sets, mobile phones and cameras. The latest came from Sun Hung Kai Financial which includes a lucky draw with a Mercedes-Benz as the winning prize. The most common gift items are still the more mundane supermarket and ice-cream coupons. Such promotions will not completely disappear after September as the SFC will allow some offers as a part of brand building. The Mandatory Provident Fund is likely to be the next battleground for such gifts. The government from next year will allow employees to choose their own MPF provider for their part of contributions to their pension. That is likely to lead to a marketing war among the 19 providers. According to a survey by provider Fidelity International, 85 per cent of respondents said they would switch to a provider that offered the most attractive incentives, including cash coupons and gifts. The Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority has not yet said if it will follow the SFC in banning such gifts. If not, we may well see some employees opt to change providers on the basis of a free ice cream. That is not a healthy option whichever way you look at it.