Lunar New Year

Digitisation’s latest target? The beloved Lunar New Year lai sees, or red packets

HSBC launches eLaisee function on mobile banking app that allows customers to send red packets and greetings digitally

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:13pm

Hold tight to your lai sees, or red packets, this Lunar New Year because soon they may be obsolete.

The Year of the Rooster will be ushered in with a new way of gifting money – traditionally given in red envelopes that symbolise good luck – with digital lai sees.

HSBC launched the eLaisee function on their mobile banking app that allows customers to “send red packets and greetings digitally to their family and friends” from January 19 to February 15.

Senders can send HK$20, HK$50, HK$100, or custom amounts and include well wishes such as “good health”, “wealthy and prosperous New Year”, and “good luck with your business”.

This provides customers with convenience and is environmentally-friendly at the same time, according to Greg Hingston, HSBC’s head of retail banking and wealth management in Hong Kong.

Other popular peer-to-peer (P2P) payment services with digital lai see options include Tencent’s WeChat and Alipay, launched by the Alibaba Group, owner of the South China Morning Post.

Even overseas players are cashing in, with the US-based PayPal unveiling “red envelope” digital cards for the new year, allowing people in the US to send money to Chinese bank accounts with their service Xoom.

But the rush to exchange physical red packets is still in full swing, as Hongkongers queued around the block at certain bank branches this week for new or good as new banknotes for their lai sees.

Lai sees are traditionally used to express fond feelings and well wishing, and are mostly given by people in superior positions, according to Dr Tam King-fai, interim head of the Chinese culture department at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Married couples will offer lai sees to single people, or people will give gifts to the security guards in their building and vegetable vendors they patronise, he said.

There is a sense of spontaneity and good will that is lost online, Tam said.

A 28-year-old woman surnamed Wang said young people may use mobile apps for lai sees, but older people would favour paper red packets.

“The elderly are not as familiar with smartphones and have a different concept of tradition,” she said.

Hongkonger Joanna Lai, 55, prefers buying and giving out paper lai sees the old-fashioned way.

“There’s an important element of tradition,” she said.

Some Lunar New Year traditions have changed over the years, as people eat out rather than cook at home, or count down the new year with friends instead of family, according to Tam.

But even with digital lai sees, the focus on tradition in the new year remains the same.

“I’m really behind the times,” Tam said. “It is so much more heartwarming to be able to pull out of the pocket and hand them the lai sees rather than typing things on the phone.”