Is giving to charity by Octopus an idea that's got legs?
The tentacles of the Octopus card reached into the world of charity for the first time yesterday as flag sellers were allowed to accept the card instead of cash donations.
Reactions were mixed. Some people were happy to replace their donations of spare change with the familiar 'dood' sound as a fixed HK$5 donation was deducted from their card. But others preferred sticking to cash.
The first charity to go digital with flag-selling was the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service Group - a Christian organisation serving underprivileged young and elderly people.
The charity had 5,000 volunteers, of whom 100 used Octopus readers while the rest carried regular cash collection bags.
Each volunteer carrying an Octopus reader paired up with one carrying a cash bag in order to provide donors with an option.
The 100 volunteers, who spread out to 11 busy MTR stations across the city, were trained by Octopus Cards on how to use the card readers. For example, the machines must be laid horizontally to work properly and are not waterproof, so volunteers must seek shelter in the event of rain.
One donor who used his Octopus card, was pleased with the new method of donating. 'I notice which organisations are selling flags every Saturday,' he said. 'But in the past, I wouldn't donate if I was only carrying a HK$100 bill. Now there is nothing stopping me.'
A woman who made a donation using her Octopus card outside Central MTR station said she liked the fact the volunteers told her very clearly the amount that would be taken off the card, but she was a bit wary of the design.
'When you place the card on the machine, it actually covers the digital screen where it says the amount that will be taken off - unlike regular card readers,' she said. 'I'd like to be able to see it on the screen for myself, because who knows if the machine is actually programmed to take HK$5.'
Ricki Wong, a volunteer assigned to use the machine, said many people were hesitant to donate through the card reader because of its unfamiliar appearance, but would give it a try after some explanation.
The Hong Kong Council of Social Service will be charging organisations a rental fee of HK$35 per day for each of the 100 machines, which will cover the cost of charging the machines' batteries and calculating and transferring the amount raised.
Christine Fang Meng-sang, chief executive of the council, said non-profit organisations had agreed to this fee, saying it was reasonable. Four more organisations had already been scheduled to sell flags using the 100 machines in the pilot programme early next year.
Octopus Cards waived handling, administration and transaction fees for the two-year pilot programme.
Last August, the former boss of Octopus Cards, Prudence Chan Bik-wah, resigned after a scandal in which she lied about the sale of card users' private data to various businesses for HK$44 million.
Last year, the Charities Aid Foundation's World Giving Index ranked Hong Kong as the 18th most generous location out of 153 countries in the world in terms of giving money, giving time and helping strangers.
The total amount raised from yesterday's flag selling was not available at the time of publication.
The total number of Octopus card readers across the city, from MTR stations to restaurants and convenience stores
The number of Octopus card transactions daily -worth more than HK$110 million