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It is a Chinese tradition for companies to give their staff ‘return to work lai see’ on the first working day of the Lunar New Year. Photo: Fung Chang

Year of the Rabbit 2023: HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered among the lenders offering staff generous ‘return-to-work’ lai see, gifts

  • While Citibank’s HK$688 (US$88) lai-see packet is the largest, Standard Chartered and Bank of China (HK) are giving each of their staff two tickets to Disneyland valued at HK$1,390
  • HSBC and Hang Seng will give their 30,000-plus staff HK$500 each, totalling more than HK$15 million

Hong Kong’s biggest banks plan to present lai see, gift hampers and tickets to Disneyland as gifts for their staff as they return to the office on the first working day in the Year of the Rabbit.

The lai see – cash presented in vibrantly coloured packets, typically red – is a centuries-old tradition, usually given by elders to young or unmarried visitors who come calling during the festive season.

It is a Chinese tradition for companies to give their staff “return-to-work lai see” on the first working day, ranging from HK$100 (US$12.82) to HK$1,000, after the long Lunar New Year break as a token of appreciation for their dedication and hard work as well as a blessing for the festival.

The Year of the Rabbit began on January 22, but most offices resume work on January 26.

According to the internal announcements by most lenders to their staff, many banks are maintaining their tradition of a generous “return-to-work lai see”. However, some have gone further, introducing lucky draws and doling out presents, a sign that local lenders are keen on attracting and retaining staff amid a shortage of talent that has been compounded by rising emigration and Covid-19 restrictions.

Citibank was the most generous lender, handing HK$688 to each of its nearly 4,500 staff in the city for the Year of the Rabbit, the same as the Year of the Tiger.

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“The management decided on 688 as it is an auspicious number in Chinese,” a spokeswoman for the bank said. Six and eight, homonyms in the Chinese language for “good fortune” and “prosperity”, are the preferred amounts to hand out.

HSBC, the city’s biggest lender, and its subsidiary Hang Seng Bank, were the biggest spenders in terms of total payout. The two banks distributed HK$500 each to their combined staff of more than 30,000, amounting to over HK$15 million.

“Despite the headwinds in 2022, once again we came out the other side stronger and more resilient, thanks to your dedication and commitment,” Luanne Lim, chief executive of HSBC Hong Kong, said in a memo to staff and seen by the Post.

“The rabbit is a symbol of vigour, energy and wittiness. With easing Covid restrictions, I am confident it is going to be an exciting year with many new opportunities.”

Hang Seng Bank will also have a lucky draw for its staff, with gifts ranging from cash coupons to hotel staycation packages.

Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong), two of the three note-issuing banks, will both give special gifts in addition to the lai see.

BOCHK will give each employee HK$500, two tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland valued at HK$1,390, as well as a hamper that includes mushrooms, dried scallops, fish maw and XO sauce.

Standard Chartered will give each employee a HK$100 lai see and two tickets to Disneyland. In addition, it will hold a lucky draw giving the 1,000-strong staff a chance to win an overnight stay at Disneyland Hotel worth HK$3,700.

Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong) will give their staff two tickets each to Hong Kong Disneyland as Lunar New Year gifts. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

HSBC, Hang Seng, Citibank and BOCHK will all transfer the lai see amount electronically or add it to the monthly pay, but Standard Chartered is sticking to tradition. The bank’s senior management will hand lai see packets to each employee in person on the first day of business in the new year.

“It is a tradition for the management of Standard Chartered bank to meet the staff on the first working day of the Lunar New Year to give them the lai see as a blessing,” said Mary Huen Wai-yi, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank Hong Kong, adding that this was not possible for the past three years due to the pandemic.

“As the Hong Kong government has already removed almost all Covid restrictions and Hong Kong is back to normal, we will take the opportunity to resume our tradition to give our blessing to our staff in person.”