Forget red envelopes - most Chinese prefer lai see money wired to bank accounts: survey

Paperless is the way to go when exchanging red packets for Lunar New Year, new poll and WeChat craze suggest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 2:12pm

It is that time of year when people in China start exchanging red money packets as part of an age-old Lunar New Year custom. But in today's digital age, more people than ever now prefer to receive the monetary gifts by internet transfer, a study suggests.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents who received remittances in China said they would prefer to have the lai see money directly transferred to their bank accounts instead of by traditional red envelopes, according to a poll by Avanti Research Partner, a Shanghai-based consultancy.

It surveyed 672 respondents in tier-one and tier-two cities across the mainland last month. The remittances include cash given by family members, employers and others.

Meanwhile, 47.9 per cent cited the red envelope gifts -- called lai see in Cantonese and hong bao in Putonghua -- as the top remittance they receive during Lunar New Year. This is followed by money for living costs (45.7 per cent) and various money tokens for birthdays, baby showers and weddings.

The survey also found that more men than women received lai see money through online means. More than half of the men reported receiving the cash via wire transfer, compared to just one-third of women, according to the survey.

The results come shortly after Tencent, the company behind the hugely popular WeChat messaging app, rolled out a feature last week that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes -- which represented actual money transfers -- to each other. The feature quickly became viral.

But unlike conventional money transfers through banks, Tencent's new add-on function allowed its 600 million users around the world to send and receive transfers using the bank accounts linked to their WeChat profiles.

The new function spawned a craze, and within the first 24 hours since it went online last Friday, “a total of 18 million yuan” had been sent out as red envelope gifts, a WeChat company manager told the Beijing Youth Daily.

Transferring lai see money via online or mobile phone means may have another side benefit. According to charitable environmental conservancy Greeners Action, Hongkongers kill around 16,300 trees a year, with 320 million red envelopes exchanged among family and friends last year alone, particularly during big social gatherings such as the Lunar New Year holidays.