The Chinese New Year (CNY) signals the start of a new year. By bidding farewell to the Year of the Rat and ushering in the Year of the Ox, we all wish that the new year will bring about a new and refreshing start. Amid lingering uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and to prevent the virus from spreading further, many CNY events have been cancelled or scaled down. We should continue to follow the guidelines issued by the public health authorities during the CNY and maintain social distancing. That said, social distancing should not be allowed to hamper our ability to show care and affection for our friends and relatives during the festive season. The HKMA encourages the public to send your blessings and wishes of good fortune to friends and relatives as well as to give and receive lai-see by electronic means during the CNY this year. Nowadays, there are many different e-payment methods available in Hong Kong that allow users to make transfers conveniently 24/7 no matter where you are. Just last year, the number of Faster Payment System registrations surged by 70% in the pandemic environment. By slightly changing our habits, we will be able to give lai-see via these channels without having to travel to banks for exchanging notes. Moreover, our friends and relatives will be able to receive the lai-see instantly in a safe, convenient and environmentally friendly manner.
This year, the HKMA actively promotes the use of electronic channels to give lai-see so that the public can continue with this long standing and cherished custom during CNY (so no worries about not receiving any lai-see this year!). With the full support of major banks and e-wallet operators, they will send friendly reminders to their customers and make dedicated arrangements such as electronic CNY stickers for social messaging Apps or even lucky draws to encourage customers to give lai-see via e-payment channels. Soon, you will start receiving related promotional information. You can also help friends and relatives who are not familiar with e-payment to use these services so that they do not need to go to banks to exchange notes for lai-see uses.
Although we encourage the public to give lai-see via electronic means, we are mindful that some people are accustomed to giving, or need to give, lai-see in cash, particularly senior citizens or those without e-wallets or mobile banking service. When we were working out the arrangements with the note-issuing banks this year, we have considered whether the notes exchange service should still continue in view of the pandemic. Since cash deposit and withdrawal are services that banks are obliged to provide for their customers, even if the notes exchange service were suspended this year, some people may still go to the note-issuing banks to withdraw money or directly request to exchange notes for lai-see uses. Instead of leaving the note-issuing banks unprepared for meeting these customer needs, we believe that suitable measures should be actively taken to allow banks to provide the needed services where circumstances permit and putting in place prudent infection prevention arrangements (e.g. diverting / managing queues). This will allow members of the public to obtain the notes they need in a safe and orderly manner, while managing and reducing the risk of crowd gathering and infection in bank branches.
To this end, the note-issuing banks will extend the duration of the notes exchange service from two weeks as in previous years to three weeks, and ensure the supply of new notes every day during this period as well as abundant good-as-new notes. Even if some people may choose to give lai-see via electronic channels or give out fewer lai-see this year, we will continue to make available sufficient notes to meet public needs. Our current stock of new notes is twice the amount of new notes issued in the previous CNY, while the stock of good-as-new notes is three times as much. Therefore, there is no need to rush to bank branches for new notes in the first few days. The note-issuing banks will respond to the customer traffic flexibly, such as opening for service earlier and distributing tickets as needed, allocating more counters to expedite the processing of notes exchange requests, and making suitable arrangements at branches for elderly customers and those with special needs. During the pandemic, banks will also implement a series of measures as required by the HKMA to protect their customers and staff, and put in place special measures for crowd control. Furthermore, individual major banks will provide online booking for notes exchange. We believe that the risks to public health can be effectively managed and reduced with all parties abiding by the necessary preventive measures and banks implementing measures to manage customer flow. Members of the public should watch out for the notes exchange arrangements to be announced by their banks.
Finally, if you need cash for lai-see, you may wish to check whether you still have new notes or good-as-new notes from last year before heading to banks to exchange notes.
I would also like to take this opportunity to send early CNY greetings to all readers on behalf of the HKMA. May the Year of the Ox bring health, prosperity and happiness to you and your family.
Senior Executive Director
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
19 January 2021