Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA)
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The new HK$20 and HK$50 notes are presented during a press conference by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Photo: Winson Wong

New yum cha, butterfly themed HK$20, HK$50 notes to be released in time for lai see to insure widest circulation, HKMA says

  • New notes to arrive on January 14, the same day customers can start exchanging notes for lai see
  • The HK$20 notes will be themed around tea gatherings, while the HK$50 notes will feature butterflies

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority will launch new HK$20 and HK$50 notes on January 14, the same day customers can start exchanging old notes for new currency in preparation for Lunar New Year, it said on Wednesday.

The notes will be released by the city’s three note-issuing banks, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China (Hong Kong).

The HK$20 notes will be themed around yum cha, or tea gatherings, while the HK$50 notes will feature butterflies. Of the 2.36 billion banknotes in circulation in Hong Kong worth a combined HK$503.9 billion (US$64.5 billion), the HK$20 notes represent the highest share at 35.7 per cent, while the HK$50 dollar notes represent 10.4 per cent.

“The HK$20 banknote is the most circulated banknote in Hong Kong, and is part of the lives of Hong Kong people. Similarly, yum cha is a favourite [activity], as many Hongkongers like to go and enjoy dim sum lunches and tea with their family and friends. This is why we picked yum cha as the theme for the HK$20 banknotes,” Edmond Lau, the HKMA’s senior executive director, said.

“We chose to launch the new HK$20 and HK$50 banknotes on the same day the public can go to the banks to exchange notes for lai see money, as this is an effective way of widely circulating the new notes,” he added.

Lai see money is handed out to children and young people who are unmarried during the Lunar New Year holiday, and cash – usually HK$20 and HK$50 notes – is preferred despite the growing popularity of digital payments. According to some estimates, at least HK$10 billion in lai see changes hands each Lunar New Year holiday.

Every year, the city’s three note-issuing banks prepare on average 350 million notes – including 55 per cent newly printed notes – in all denominations for lai see, according to HKMA statistics. These banks have printed a combined 260 million of the new HK$20 notes and 85 million of the new HK$50 notes, which Lau said were sufficient to meet the public’s needs.

The two new notes are the latest and last batch to be issued under the 2018 design series. The HKMA announced the designs of the new banknotes with the latest security features in 2018, but has launched them at different times.

The HK$1,000 note that celebrates Hong Kong as a smart international financial centre was launched in December 2018, the HK$500 note that features the city’s natural beauty was introduced in February 2019, while the HK$100 note featuring Cantonese opera was launched in September last year.

Cantonese opera features on new HK$100 banknotes

Lau said the more than 240 types of butterflies found in Hong Kong were the inspiration for the new HK$50 notes. While the HKMA decides on security features and sets the theme, the three note-issuing banks come up with the designs.

Older notes will continue to be legal tender, Lau added.