Year of the Dragon: ZA Bank, Citigroup, HSBC, BOCHK lavish Hong Kong staff with fat lai see packets, other goodies

Many employees of Hong Kong’s biggest banks will be getting red envelopes stuffed with more money than last year as they return to work to begin the Year of the Dragon. Some will also enjoy hampers full of treats and lucky draws, while others will even get an extra day off.

It is a Chinese tradition for companies to give their staff lai see packets on the first working day of the Lunar New Year as a token of appreciation for their dedication and hard work, as well as a blessing for the year ahead. A Post poll of 10 lenders found that this year’s lai see packets range from HK$100 (US$12.82) to HK$1,000.

ZA Bank, the city’s biggest virtual lender, is giving out this year’s most generous red envelope – HK$1,000 to each staff member – albeit in virtual form via the ZA Bank app. The bank is also giving employees an extra day off on February 14 so they can enjoy Valentine’s Day with loved ones.

Citigroup ranks second, increasing the lai see payout to its 4,500 employees by 16 per cent to HK$800 from HK$688 a year earlier. The number eight is auspicious in Chinese, associated with wealth.

A performing group rehearses on February 6, 2024 for the ‘Cathay International Chinese New Year Night Parade’, to be held in Tsim Sha Tsui on the first day of the Year of the Dragon. Photo: May Tse

“Hong Kong is a key market for Citi globally, and 2024 will be an important year as Citi continues to win clients,” said Aveline San, the bank’s CEO for Hong Kong and Macau. “In Chinese culture, the dragon is a symbol of strength, energy and vitality. May these qualities and the fiery spirit of the dragon fuel our journey to building a winning bank together.”

In terms of total payout, HSBC, the city’s biggest lender, tops the list along with its subsidiary Hang Seng Bank. The two banks are distributing HK$500 to each of about 27,000 staff members, amounting to more than HK$13.5 million.

Bank of China (Hong Kong) (BOCHK), another of the city’s three note-issuing banks, will give each of about 15,000 employees HK$500, as well as a hamper that includes mushrooms, dried scallops, fish maw and XO sauce.

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Bank of East Asia will pay HK$100 per employee, while Standard Chartered Bank is combining lai see with a lucky draw, giving out packets with amounts ranging from HK$200 to HK$2,888, as well as holding another lucky draw with prizes such as Disneyland tickets, hotel vouchers and 25,000 Asia Miles – enough for a round-trip ticket to Japan.

Hang Seng Bank will also have a lucky draw to give out 1,000 gift coupons, while ZA Bank’s lucky draw for its staff will have a top prize of HK$10,000.

Virtual lender WeLab Bank will offer lai see at an unspecified amount as well as a higher savings rate of 3.75 per cent for Hong Kong staff from December until May for deposits up to HK$5 million.

Like ZA Bank, many banks have shifted to using an electronic format to deliver lai see money, instead of physical packets. Most banks will pay through their payroll systems, while HSBC will pay via its mobile payment app PayMe and BOCHK will pay its staff via BOC Pay.

Swiss lender UBS, which previously gave out physical packets, is bestowing virtual red packets containing points that employees can use on an internal marketplace to redeem gifts including electronics, health and wellness products, sports accessories and household appliances.

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Some firms still prefer to stick to paper lai see.

“We have a tradition of gifting physical lai see to our employees during Lunar New Year, and I do not think there are plans to move to e-lai see for now,” said Geraldine Walsh, head of marketing in Asia for Janus Henderson, a global fund management firm with headquarters in London and Denver in the US.

“We put a lot of thought and effort into every lai see design,” she said. “I find lai see packets can be beautiful works of art and enjoy the act of giving and receiving something tangible and tactile, so I hope there will be some time yet before we move to e-lai see.”

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