COMMENT: Let's all start giving out e-hongbaos now and forever

Aloysius Low
·3-min read
giving red envelope of money on holiday
(Photo: Getty)

In some ways, Singapore's still lagging when it comes to cashless payments.

Sure, we have a ton of cashless options, from the national PayNow system, to individual bank options such as DBS' PayLah!, or the one I use the most, Grab Pay. But we're still pretty much fixated on the idea that we have to give physical cash in a red packet during the Chinese New Year, because tradition.

I say it's time to move on and embrace the cashless lifestyle. And the Singapore government wants this to happen too. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) released a statement early last month calling for e-hongbaos, in part to also help reduce waste.

An estimated 330 tonnes of carbon emission is generated each year to produce enough fresh notes to satisfy Singaporeans' desire for new notes to give.

It's a silly waste of resources, and I'd argue that if you want new, electronic payments means your money is sent in fresh electronic bits. That makes them even newer than the notes that have been sitting inside the packet for the last week or so.

China, where the hongbao tradition comes from, already embraces the giving of virtual red packets with more than 5 billion yuan (US$700 million) sent during the period, according to the People's Daily Online. Online payment platforms such as Alipay ran promotions last year, giving out 500 million yuan to users to incentivise them to do so.

Local banks here can do so as well to encourage older folks to embrace the platform, which will help transform our society into a cashless one. After all, a 2017 study has shown that cash notes are basically bacteria hotspots.

Which brings me to my next point. With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much present and the new CNY restrictions for visiting in place, you'll definitely want to reduce contact as much as possible, especially with your vulnerable older relatives.

Banks here are also adding a feature to send CNY greetings when you send e-hongbaos with PayNow, and online payment platforms such as Grab likely bringing back its online CNY promotion again this year, it’s time to teach your older relatives how to e-hongbao. An easy way, I suppose, is to use games. We're all so used to sending digital gifts or virtual currencies, and this is but an extension of the idea.

Lastly, here’s another good reason why you should teach your older relatives to do so (which only applies if you still qualify to receive them).

With each household restricted to eight visitors a day, we may all be using video calls to deliver our New Year greetings. So if you’re still thinking of collecting your red packets virtually, it’s best to make sure everyone’s onboard the cashless train.

As for me, I’ll aim to be a hermit this Chinese New Year and will remain offline as much as possible. After all, I can't send any e-hongbaos if I'm uncontactable, right?

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at

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