Crowds prompt Hong Kong bank branch to open early, and it runs out of new notes for Lunar New Year
Mostly elderly customers queued around block in Mong Kok
New banknotes were snapped up around the city when banks opened yesterday as Hongkongers queued to get their hands on freshly printed lai see for the Lunar New Year, causing some banks to end new banknote service early.
At the HSBC branch in Mong Kok, a mostly older crowd clutched red envelopes as they left the bank, which ended service for new banknotes at around noon on Tuesday.
The branch put up posters indicating new HK$10, HK$20, and HK$50 notes were out of stock by 9:30am, although the notes were still issued to queued up customers until around noon, an HSBC spokeswoman said. Early risers prompted the bank to open at 8am, an hour earlier than usual.
“As there [were] a large number of people attending at Mongkok branch this morning and the bank hall was very crowded, we suggested customers to visit our branch for banknote exchange tomorrow or the day after,” the spokeswoman said, adding that good as new notes were continually issued throughout the day.
The public is traditionally eager to exchange older notes for just printed or good as new notes for lai see, or red packets, for the Lunar New Year at the city’s three note issuing banks – HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Bank of China (Hong Kong).
“There are so many customers today and they arrived so early in the morning,” a separate HSBC spokeswoman said.
She added that many people came to the bank each year ahead of the holiday and were encouraged by staff to use nearly new notes as opposed to those hot from the printers for environmental reasons, consistent with recommendations by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
“But people like the new notes,” she conceded.
The spokeswomen declined to comment about demand for banknotes at HSBC other than at the Mong Kok branch, given the number of banks across the city and how much conditions vary at each.
In Mong Kok, staff prepared a HK$3,000 “ready pack” for customers containing 100 HK$20 bills and 20 HK$50 ones – its two most popular notes.
At one time, more than 40 people were seen queuing outside the branch.
Accountant Dorothy Yau,55, said it was the second time for her to get new notes for Lunar New Year. She exchanged HK$5,000, about the same amount as last year.
One man left the bank at around 9.35am complaining about how early the notes had run out and claiming the supply was insufficient.
A woman, surnamed Ma, said she exchanged a couple thousand notes at the branch. She said she accepted good-as-new notes in order to be more environmentally friendly.
Another woman, also surnamed Ma, said she exchanged around HK$18,000 in new notes, mostly HK$50 and HK$20 notes, similar to what she exchanged last year.
Bank of China opened at its regular time at 9am Tuesday, and its Mong Kok branch likewise saw a steady stream of around 30 people queuing up for new notes.
Its stock of new HK$10 and HK$50 new notes was depleted by around 10.30am.
“So many people!” the branch’s security guard said.
HSBC will open half an hour earlier for new banknote service until Thursday, and will continue providing new banknote service “until stocks last” before the Lunar New Year, a spokeswoman said.