Chinese New Year in Singapore: From Li Chun to e-Chun?

A woman uses the automated teller machine at a DBS Bank ATM booth, flanked by ATM booths of other Singapore banks, at Changi Airport, in Singapore, on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg

By David Sun and Ben Nadarajan, Contributors

Despite being a firm believer that “you have to deposit physical cash for it to count”, Madam Cindy Tay is nevertheless likely to go online, rather than to a bank, for her traditional Li Chun deposit on 4 February.

“Last year I did it online because the queues were so long. This year, if there is a really long queue, then I will have no choice but to do it online again,” the 60-year old retiree told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore.

That is exactly the shift banks are hoping for.

Li Chun, literally the beginning of Spring, is an auspicious day in the Chinese solar calendar when farmers prayed for a good harvest. The modern day practice of depositing money in hopes of a prosperous year has traditionally seen long queues, increased manpower and extended operating hours at Singapore’s banks.

This year, however, banks are gunning for an ‘e-Chun’ and hoping that people will buy into their digital services instead, including cash deposit machines and ibanking. “By creating hassle-free and convenient banking experiences for our customers, we hope to make festive banking simpler and faster so that they can focus on the people who matter,” said DBS managing director and head of consumer banking group (Singapore) Jeremy Soo.

DBS is one of several banks that told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore it had no plans to operate more branches next Sunday (4 Feb) or have branches that operate on weekends stay open for longer. Instead, it is encouraging its customers to deposit money via DBS PayLah! during their zodiac sign’s auspicious hour.  DBS and POSB also have over 440 machines with cash deposit functions.

Maybank, HSBC, United Overseas Bank, OCBC Bank and Standard Chartered echoed this sentiment. OCBC Bank’s Head of Branch Service and Risk Management Jean Oh also noted that interest in making physical deposits during Li Chun had “waned over the years”, and that crowds had thinned.

All banks besides OCBC added that their cash deposit machines would be serviced more frequently to accommodate the extra volume of deposits.

Way Fengshui Group’s Chief Geomancer, Grand Master Tan Khoon Yong, reassured those planning to make e-deposits that these waves of digital disruption are unlikely to cause a shift in luck, and said that the added convenience might convince younger adults to keep up the tradition.

“The practice of depositing money during Li Chun symbolises steady income for the whole year. Therefore, depositing money via an ATM, at a teller, or iBanking is acceptable,” he added.

Way Fenshui’s guide on auspicious dates to deposit money during Li Chun, the first festival of the Chinese solar new year. (Photo: Way Fenshui)

Tan said that there is no fixed rule for how much one should deposit. “However, for added luck, deposit an amount with integers that add up to an auspicious number,” he said. According to a DBS spokesman, an average of $35 was deposited per transaction during Li Chun last year.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences expects younger people to be more willing to embrace e-deposits “since they are more used to doing online transactions”.

But for some older people, going down to the bank to physically deposit money is still a must. “They may think that some physical effort is necessary to ‘activate’ one’s luck,,” he said.

The banks do, however, have reason to be optimistic. At least one electronically-facilitated Chinese New Year trend has caught the imagination of Singaporeans. According to DBS Bank, the number of eAng Baos sent by its customers last year was five times higher than in 2016.

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