Who Gets Custom Deal Toys (and What Exactly are They For?)

February 8, 2023 by David Parry
custom deal toys

If you’re not in the financial industry, there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of deal toys; and you’re even less likely to have heard of the other, less captivating term they commonly go by: “financial tombstones“.

But even if you are in finance, perhaps even a new investment banker charged with ordering them for the first time, you may still be wondering what exactly deal toys are for.

After all, they don’t seem to “do” much. (Very few deal toys are functional; you might occasionally see one that doubles as a pen stand or desk caddy, but those are increasingly rare.)

So it might be hard to see deal toys as anything other than some insignificant financial industry quirk: weird, self-indulgent, and maybe just plain silly.

If they don’t do anything, what—and who— exactly are they for? And if they do serve a purpose, is it just for investment bankers? And even if you are an investment banker, and are already familiar with them, you may still be baffled. Why would anyone possibly ask you to disrupt your already hectic work schedule, just to devote time and energy to something that seems so…frivolous?

Starbucks Custom Deal Toy

Deal Toys Do Have a Purpose (and More Than One)

Deal toys, those commemoratives usually made of crystal or Lucite that celebrate successfully completed financial transactions, actually have several recipients and serve several purposes.

Internal Recognition

One rationale for deal toys is purely internal: they serve as employee recognition awards for those involved in a completed deal.

But unlike the kind of traditional, off-the-shelf employee recognition awards you might be familiar with, deal toys tend to have additional meaning for bankers (and other recipients). This added cachet is due to the fact that deal toys usually have custom designs, which in some way play off or evoke something specific to the deal itself, such as the company logo, the industry involved, or the type of deal. (These highly customized, creative touches also tend to make deal toys such effective conversation pieces when put on display).

In his book chronicling the experiences of several first-year investment bankers, Young Money, Kevin Roose gives some sense of the impact of what some disparage as “deal trinkets”. He describes the nightly routine of one of the young bankers, chronically sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed with pitch books and other “deliverables”. “He kept his deal toys lined up on the desk in his bedroom”, Roose writes, “and he liked looking at them before bed”.

Even many senior bankers still find that same sort of satisfaction in deal toys. They represent—and recognize—the considerable amount of time, effort, and expertise that typically go into a completed deal.

Personal and Group Branding

A second rationale for deal toys involves promotion and branding. What’s being promoted and put on display is experience, expertise,  and ultimately, success. The particular brand being promoted can be that of an entire firm or group (through, for instance, a display of deal toys in a conference or reception area).

But when displayed in an individual’s office or workspace, they speak more to a personal brand, and provide what amounts to a visual resume of transactions and achievements.

Importantly, that visual resume tends to travel with bankers as they move from firm to firm; and just as significant, these deal toys are on display for a number of distinct and influential groups: colleagues, clients, and potential clients.

Client Retention and Marketing

This is by far the most important reason for deal toys, and explains how, and why, they’ve managed to survive over the course of 50+ years—despite a litany of financial disruptions, downturns, and even crises.

The most important recipient of deal toys is external; it’s the client of the bank or financial institution.

Whether they successfully guided a company through an IPO, raised needed capital through a debt issue, or facilitated a strategic acquisition, banks (like many other businesses) have sought ways not only to celebrate the occasion, but also solidify their relationship with their client.

Decades ago, banks started to recognize that traditional, high-end “client appreciation gifts” had their limitations. Expensive pens, for instance, undoubtedly have both function and cachet, but they also have an uncanny knack for getting lost or disappearing.

High-end clocks, another obvious gift with high perceived value, posed different problems. Not all cultures prized clocks as gifts, and beyond that, just how many ornate desk clocks does an individual need, or for that matter, have the space for?

The Most Crucial Deal Toy Recipients: Clients

By contrast, investment banks found that deal toys were something that clients tended to hold on to.


One reason was their distinctive designs, which, again, had special meaning and resonance for those involved in the transaction. Having a design specific to a deal, and all the many challenges and shared experiences that went into bringing that deal to fruition, is what gives deal toys so much perceived value and cachet for participants.

(At The Corporate Presence, we’re regularly provided evidence of that perceived value. We routinely receive requests, from both bankers and their clients, to replace lost or broken deal toys that were originally given years and sometimes even decades ago).

And because deal toys are valued in this way, they also tend to be displayed prominently. As banks soon appreciated—and long before the term “top-of-mind marketing” became so well-worn—that this also meant that their names and logos remained prominently displayed to their clients. That kind of silent advertising and promotion can be invaluable, especially if you’re trying to lay for the groundwork for future business with that client.

Deal Toy with Embedded Drug Vial

But are Deal Toys Still Relevant—and Worth it?

But all this really speaks to the traditional rationale for deal toys; and there would seem to be a number of recent trends actively working against that rationale. Remote and hybrid work arrangements and cost-cutting, for instance, come immediately to mind.

Why would deal toys survive these realities?

The fact is that many recent trends have only underscored the value of deal toys. Yes, investment banks and financial institutions, like most organizations, have become increasingly cost-conscious. Deal toys have shed many of the flamboyant and extravagant flourishes they had in the 80’s and 90’s.

On the other hand, the impact of new workplace arrangements, especially in the form of fewer in-person interactions with colleagues and clients, has been profound. If anything, it has also tended to heighten the need to recognize employee contributions, and to forge deeper bonds with clients.

Again, if anything, deal toys have proliferated. Though they may not be ordering “deal toys” by name, a growing number of clients outside the financial sector are ordering similarly customized commemoratives to celebrate not only transactions but other organizational achievements and milestones. These might, for example, recognize a strategic partnership or joint venture, legal advisory work in a favorable judicial decision, or regulatory approval of a new drug.

So despite their often playful design and character, and the seemingly dismissive “toy” tag, deal toys do serve an important purpose—and not just for bankers. Reach out today.


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