Paper Money

Pandemic lessens demand for Year of the Ox Lucky Money

COVID-19 restrictions are forcing changes in Hong Kong to how “lucky money” is being distributed for the new year.

Image courtesy of Hong Kong Standard.

So far, its not such a lucky year for Lucky Money. Thanks to COVID-19, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had to put a hold on the release of its Year of the Ox 2021 Lucky Money product. The annual issue, a consistent sellout is issued for the Chinese New Year that, this year, is on Feb. 12.

Lucky money, or hongbao in Mandarin and lai see in Cantonese, is an Asian tradition in which crisp, new bank notes are placed in red envelopes and given as new year gifts to offer wishes for a safe and peaceful year.

The Hong Kong Standard reported on Jan. 27 the lines at banks to exchange used notes for new ones were smaller than usual, about half of last year’s. Those online, mostly elderly, said they were exchanging fewer notes and would be giving out fewer packets. One man told the paper that his family canceled its plans “due to the two-person limit on group gatherings.” He added, “My wife and I cannot go out with our children and grandchildren, so maybe we will just stay home.”

Hong Kong banks have been proactive, opening earlier, and extending the period for bank note exchange from two weeks to three, until Feb. 11. They also handed out tickets to reduce crowds and asked people to come back at specific times so they would not have to stand in line. HSBC, or the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, introduced an e-booking system for bank note exchange, with appointments made on its website or mobile banking app.

Banks are also encouraging online red packets through a number of apps, although their acceptance seems to be a function of age, especially with older people who prefer cash since they are not familiar with electronic payments.

One woman said, “It seems less friendly to give out red packets online.” But she added, “Some children are happy when they receive red packets.”

Another person told the Standard, “Giving out online red packets is not bad but I don’t know how to use those e-payment tools so I would still need to visit the bank to exchange for new banknotes.”

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