21 October 2016
Hong Kong people use bank safety deposit boxes for various purposes, from keeping jewelry to storing their ancestors' urns. Photos: HKEJ
Hong Kong people use bank safety deposit boxes for various purposes, from keeping jewelry to storing their ancestors' urns. Photos: HKEJ

Why bank safety deposit boxes won’t fade away in HK

In Hong Kong, space is money, no matter how small it is.

We are now talking about the tiny safety deposit boxes rented out by banks to help us store valuables such as jewelry and important documents like birth or marriage certificates.

At Bank of China, a shoe-box size storage unit currently costs HK$2,540 a year to rent following a 20 percent hike in the fees last month.

The charge may be steep, but it still represents a relatively good deal when compared with the fee levied by other banking biggies. HSBC, for instance, charges HK$4,220 per year.

For a hand-carry-luggage-sized box (30 x 30 x 24 inches), Hang Seng Bank charges HK$12,800 per year, after a 6.4 percent rental hike since last month.

The increased rental fees have been taken in stride by Hong Kong people, who have anyway become accustomed the rising costs of everything due to the city’s ever-increasing real estate prices.

As a matter of fact, some would argue that the charges are low, given the supply-demand gap for safety deposit boxes.

Banks have long waiting queues for the boxes, which prompted some institutions to even stop taking new customers in some recent years.

Normally it’ll take about a year for a bank customer to get a safety deposit box. For bigger size box, the waiting time will be much longer.

Old customers who have storage units are usually reluctant to give up their safe boxes even if they don’t have much use for them.

As someone said, people tend to give back their units only when they leave Hong Kong or depart this world altogether.

Banks have good reason to demand higher fees as safety deposit boxes are one of the very few services where the institutions lose money.

Sky-high property prices mean banks don’t get good return on the space devoted to storage units.

An entity, for instance, can make much more money if it uses the safety deposit box areas in branches in core business districts for other purposes.

That said, banks know that they cannot stop offering the safety deposit boxes, as the service is in great demand.

By catering to the popular need, banks can win customer loyalty, which can then be leveraged to sell various other products.

Now, what is often inside a deposit box?

Depending on the customer, it could be anything, from photos to pistols, apart from the traditional valuables and documents.

It is an accepted fact that a precious item is safer in a bank locker than at home.

That is one reason why some people have even begun to store their ancestors’ urns in safety deposit boxes, a practice which banks are strongly discouraging, as Apple Daily noted.

Fung shui concerns are another factor why some Chinese do not want to keep urns at home. Also, it is increasingly difficult and expensive to find columbariums, which too are in short supply.

Given this situation, it’s not surprising that people are looking at bank safety deposit boxes as an alternative. I have seen some really nice decorated urns that look like jewelry boxes.

Apparently, those items have not brought bad fung shui to the banks.

For people unable to secure bank storage units, shifting to home safes can be an alternative.

Having the units at home will be convenient, and the boxes can be fire-proof. The only problem, other than a robbery, could be remembering the passcode always.

Meanwhile, it will be a good idea to buy comprehensive home insurance.

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EJ Insight writer

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