Long lines for new banknotes

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 19, 2014.

The annual rush to the banks for crisp notes to fill Chinese New Year red packets is in full swing.

Some customers have stood in line for an hour or more to get their hongbao bills since banks started handing out new and "good as new" notes last Monday.

Checks by The Sunday Times yesterday found customers queueing up at Bedok North and Jurong Point even before their bank branches opened.

With fewer than 10 working days left to Chinese New Year on Jan 31, banks are advising customers to go this week and avoid the usual frantic last-minute crush just before the festival.

They said the $2 bill remains most popular, followed by the $10 bill. Banks cap the exchange for $2 bills at $400 per customer to ensure they do not run out each day.

The three Singapore banks said they have measures in place to keep the hongbao queues moving.

OCBC customers can choose pre-packed bundles of 100 $2 notes and 20 $10 notes and the bank's red packets, said Mr Sunny Quek, OCBC's head of branch and premier banking.

United Overseas Bank, DBS Bank and POSB offer $500 packages with $2 and $10 bills.

Pre-packed notes for DBS and POSB customers are only available at six SingPost outlets in Toa Payoh Central, Woodlands Civic Centre, Chinatown Post Office, IMM, Singapore Post Centre and Robinson Road.

Many customers want more than the packaged bundles, and this can add to waiting time as tellers have to count the money.

Customers typically want hongbao money worth anything from a few hundred dollars to a thousand or couple of thousand dollars.

Some of the larger bank branches have introduced separate hongbao lines, dedicating one or two counters for this.

When The Sunday Times visited a DBS branch in Raffles Place last Friday afternoon, there were more than a dozen people in the hongbao notes queue. The branch had several staff helping customers fill in forms indicating how much hongbao money they wanted, and in which denominations. Some customers were done in just 10 minutes.

UOB spokesman Jean Khong said the bank has special arrangements for elderly customers, who can take a seat while waiting.

Businesswoman Margaret Lee, 60, changes about $500 for new notes every year at POSB. "There will be a lot of people at lunch time, so I try and get it done on weekday mornings and make sure I do so in the first two weeks that the new notes are available," she said.

While most Chinese prefer to put brand-new notes into hongbao, the Monetary Authority of Singapore launched recycled "good as new" $2 notes last year to save energy. It prints and issues 100 million $2 polymer notes to banks each year but only half are needed for normal circulation.

It said it issued 13 per cent fewer new notes last year.

In anticipation of last-minute demand, most DBS and POSB branches will close one hour later between Jan 27 and 29.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.