SINGAPORE: For generations, the handing out of red packets - or hongbaos - containing cash has been a tightly held tradition in the Chinese culture, especially during Chinese New Year.
The red envelopes are typically printed by banks and businesses and given to clients and customers to use.
But technology is changing how Chinese families are giving away hongbaos to their relatives, with the gifting of 'cashless' red packets gaining traction, according to some banks.
Standard Chartered and Citibank began offering a cashless red packet function over PayNow this year, while DBS Bank has seen the use of its eAng Bao function in its mobile wallet app PayLah! rise sixfold over the past year.
The local bank has also upped the ante this year by piloting what it said is the world’s first loadable QR red packets.
After users load a cash value into unique QR codes on a physical ‘red packet’, they can give it away to a recipient who can then scan the same QR red packet to automatically transfer the amount into their mobile wallet.
“If you put it on a scale, the eAng Bao is (on one) extreme where it’s totally digital,” said Jeremy Soo, the head of DBS Bank’s consumer banking group (Singapore).
“You send everything on a digital format, a nice message, but it’s not accompanied by a face-to-face interaction,” said Mr Soo. “However on the other extreme, you see consumers say, ‘no, I must use red packet and new notes’.
“With this QR angbao, we’re able to bridge this gap where we can marry traditional customs … with a QR angbao with value inserted in there So you preserve this whole greeting and exchange and the giving practices that’s been embraced by not only by the Chinese, but any Singaporean today who celebrates Chinese New Year."
Another business merging technology with tradition this festive season is Hotel Jen at Tanglin, which teamed up with its adopted charity The Little Arts Academy to develop digitally animated red packets.
When scanned using a mobile app, the designs on the red packets digitally animate through the use of augmented reality technology, making the birds printed on the packets come to life.
INNOVATING WITH TRADITIONAL RED PACKETS
But will digital red packets replace their physical counterparts? Red packet printer Caston, which has been in the business for 30 years, does not think so.
During its heyday, the company printed nearly 70 million envelopes during the Chinese New Year season, and has seen the envelope design trends evolve over the years.
"Twenty, thirty years ago hongbaos are quite simple - just normal paper and gold stamping, gold and red only,” said Caston’s creative director Alvin Tan.
The printer was the first to experiment with more colourful designs and premium paper, raising the bar for the traditionally red and gold envelopes, according to Mr Tan. But competitors quickly caught up, with most red packets now designed with more elaborate embellishments, boasting laser cut designs, gold dust and different textures on each envelope.
This year, Caston halved its production of red envelopes, due to stiffer competition from other market players, digital hongbaos and with fewer foreign banks distributing red packets to customers this year as well, said Mr Tan.
Currently, the printer has about 50 clients, including banks, retailers and airlines.
In a bid to better compete, the printer is exploring innovative methods and technology to create more eye-catching red packets, such as the use of three-dimensional designs. Its chief designer added that the art of creating red packets remains invaluable.
“I personally still think that high technology, regardless of how advanced it is, this hongbao is still traditional for the new year,” said Mr Tan.
“This is our Chinese culture - this is the only thing that celebrates our new year. It’s the happiness and fun.”