As the Lunar New Year approaches, the queues at the bank are getting longer for people who want to get fresh dollar notes to give away during the festive season.
Giving away lai see is such a heartwarming tradition — maybe not so much for some ladies to whom the red packet is reminder that they ought to get hitched before they get any older.
But sooner or later, this tradition has to give way to a digital version, meaning giving lai see through your mobile phone.
Perhaps not in the Year of the Monkey, but we shall expect new and creative ways of distributing lucky money in the years ahead.
We remain optimistic because we read at least 26 companies are applying for online payment license in Hong Kong to settle peer-to-peer transactions like distributing virtual red envelopes.
It all started with Tencent, which successfully launched a “catch red packet” game which gave away online purchase credits to lucky players. About a billion packets were distributed as part of the promotion in the Spring Festival of 2014.
What started as a fun game became a huge online marketplace. Certainly, there were lots of technical hurdles to be cleared before its commercialization – especially since it involved transferring money from one account to another.
But the market seems ready for it, especially China, where people are already doing daily transactions such as booking a dinner or hailing a taxi on their smartphones.
Imagine, with mobile lai see, you will never miss a lucky money even if you don’t meet or pay a visit to the giver on Lunar New Year.
Besides, a mobile lai see is so much more environment-friendly than the physical red envelope. And more convenient and flexible.
A mobile red packet can be of any amount (HK$18.88, instead of the HK$20 norm) and denomination (Euro or US dollar would be more fun than receiving yuan or Hong Kong dollar notes).
Despite the popularity of mobile payment wallets such as Apple Pay, the chance of getting a mobile lai see this year is slim.
This week, when WeChat launched a Hong Kong payment version with enticing offers such as free Airport Express ride or entrance to the Hong Kong Jockey Club racecourse, it did not bother to give away mobile lai see.
Why Jack Ma’s Alipay has not come up with a more creative way of giving lai see remains a mystery. Well, at least it has yet to happen in Hong Kong.
Other homegrown players like TnG and Tap & Go (similar names but different companies, the latter owned by CSL, a PCCW mobile arm) are offering special rebates for those signing up for their services, although their offerings are much smaller than those in China.
For China, there is no better way to get aboard the new economy bandwagon than to allow people to give out or receive red packets through their mobile devices.
And amid the country’s anti-graft campaign, giving out mobile lai see is much safer, too.
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