Singaporeans encouraged to give e-hongbao this Chinese New Year as safer, environmentally friendlier option

DBS Bank’s QR Gift card (left) and Citibank's mobile app, which can be used to send and receive e-hongbao.
DBS Bank’s QR Gift card (left) and Citibank's mobile app, which can be used to send and receive e-hongbao.PHOTOS: DBS BANK, CITIBANK SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - With Chinese New Year around the corner, the "hongbao" - or red packets - traditionally exchanged during this period are on the minds of many Singaporeans.

While hongbao are usually given hand-to-hand, it has become common practice in China for relatives to send each other e-hongbao via messaging app WeChat.

In a statement on Monday (Jan 11), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) encouraged Singaporeans to opt for e-hongbao this Chinese New Year.

"They will help to reduce queues for physical notes and are more environmentally friendly," MAS said.

One way to send e-hongbao is via PayNow.

Those who bank with Citibank, DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, UOB and Maybank will soon be able to add Chinese New Year greetings when they do so. The messages can be sent via WhatsApp or SMS.

"PayNow enables the tradition of giving hongbao to continue, digitally and safely. Customers may contact their bank for more information on how to send hongbao digitally with PayNow," said the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) in a separate statement on Monday.

Some Singaporeans prefer gifting new physical notes but these are often returned to the banks by the public after Chinese New Year anyway.

MAS estimates that some 330 tonnes of carbon emissions are generated by the production of new notes each Chinese New Year.

"This is equivalent to emissions from charging 5.7 million smartphones or one smartphone for every Singaporean resident for five days," said MAS' assistant managing director of finance, risk and currency Bernard Wee.

MAS also added that going digital will complement safe management measures currently in place due to Covid-19.

"E-hongbao will enable remote gifting across a variety of visitation practices, including virtual gatherings," said MAS.

With social gatherings capped at eight people under phase three regulations, some may have to meet their extended family virtually.

The e-hongbao drive is part of a larger shift towards e-gifting by MAS and ABS, which supports this initiative.

Fintech firms are encouraged to develop e-gifting solutions for different purposes including gifting during festive periods.

The most innovative fintech solution for e-gifting will receive special recognition at the Singapore FinTech Festival in November.

Those who still want to give physical notes for Chinese New Year will have to make an appointment using their bank's online reservation system before visiting the branches to collect the new notes.

Those aged 60 and above or who have disabilities are allowed to head down to their banks from Jan 25 to order notes.

However, the ABS encourages them to pre-order to reduce crowding and facilitate safe distancing at bank branches.

From Jan 25, 61 ATMs by DBS and POSB will also start dispensing new notes which can be withdrawn without a prior booking.

Those who want to pre-order new notes can do so earlier with Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank. Pre-orders for new and good-as-new notes will open from next Monday (Jan 18).

Customers of these two banks are encouraged to place an online reservation for the notes before visiting the branches. Collection for online orders of new notes will also begin on Jan 25.

“The adoption of e-payments grew significantly this past year as it is more convenient than cash,” said Mr Wee. 

“The coming Lunar New Year offers an opportunity for us to build on this momentum, to spread the benefits of e-gifting, and to forge new traditions with our families and friends.”

Ms Kathy Tan, 22, said: “For my paternal family, new notes are seen as auspicious. Receiving physical hongbao won’t make much of a difference for me, but I can imagine that holding an actual angpao makes you more excited when you receive it.” 

The final year student is also unsure if her parents, who are both over 60, will be keen on the  e-hongbao idea.

“In the first place, my parents don’t use Paynow and if they do give e-hongbao, it will be something they’d have to learn,” she added. 

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