Skip to main content



Banks see long queues for new notes ahead of Chinese New Year, some people turned away

SINGAPORE — Long queues of mostly senior citizens formed outside bank branches on Monday (Jan 25), with people eager to snap up new dollar notes less than three weeks before Chinese New Year.

People queuing up to get new dollar notes outside bank branches at Toa Payoh Central on Jan 25, 2021.

People queuing up to get new dollar notes outside bank branches at Toa Payoh Central on Jan 25, 2021.

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

  • Queues formed at bank branches and pop-up ATMs as new dollar notes were released on Monday morning
  • People TODAY spoke to said they wanted the notes as they prefer to gift physical red packets
  • However, some are switching to electronic alternatives, which local banks are also pushing for


SINGAPORE — Long queues of mostly senior citizens formed outside bank branches on Monday (Jan 25), with people eager to snap up new dollar notes less than three weeks before Chinese New Year.

But many were left disappointed as the banks stopped distributing soon after they opened, on the first day of the notes’ release. They had hit the maximum capacity for the day.

When TODAY visited a DBS bank branch in Ang Mo Kio at around 9am, there were about 30 people queuing up.

For Ms Chen Soon Jee, 71, her family is discouraging relatives from visiting their home due to the cap of eight visitors for each household imposed by the authorities, but she was withdrawing notes in case they come anyway.

Extra notes, the retiree said, can be saved for the year after, and she prefers traditional red packets to electronic alternatives.

Retiree Ang Amoi, 77, said that she arrived at the branch between 7am and 8am as a walk-in customer — before its official opening hour of 8.30am — but was told that no more new notes would be distributed.

Bus driver Choo Hock Hung, 65, came down specifically on his day off, only to be turned away.

However, he was adamant on obtaining new bank notes, as he still intends to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family.

“We’re making different arrangements, spreading out visits over a longer period of time,” he said. “There’s a mood to celebrate the new year.”

Like others who did not arrive in time to collect fresh bank notes, Mr Choo was redirected to a nearby pop-up ATM.

There are 61 ATMs stationed at 20 community centres and 21 self-service branches around Singapore, with two pop-up ATMs at each community centre.

Members of the public may check the waiting times for the various locations online, which ranges from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

The queue outside bank branches at Toa Payoh Central on Jan 25, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

When TODAY visited Teck Ghee Community Centre at 11am, there was a snaking queue of around 70 to 80 people waiting for two ATMs, with a wait time of up to two hours.

 Retiree Fred Tan, 70, said: “If I had known the queue was so long, I would have come earlier or gone elsewhere.”

Those who had made online reservations for the new notes also had to wait, including 65-year-old retiree Michael Wo who waited for about half an hour at the OCBC bank branch at Toa Payoh Central.

In a statement to TODAY, a DBS spokesperson said: “Some customers were redirected from the branches because there’s a limit to the number of eligible customers who can be in the branch at any one time, in accordance with safe distancing measures.”

The spokesperson added that DBS has planned its reservation slots and allocated a specific number of branch walk-in slots every day for people aged 60 and above, or with disabilities, on a first-come-first-served basis.

Mr Bob Ng, OCBC’s head of personal and premier banking in Singapore, said: “We apologise to our elderly customers for the inconvenience caused to them. Where possible, we helped our elderly customers reserve slots online so that they can have a confirmed day to collect their notes.”

Standard Chartered bank also received “overwhelming response” via its online reservation system, its spokesperson said, and that reservation has closed.

Ms Jacquelyn Tan, head of group personal financial services at United Overseas Bank (UOB), said: “At UOB, we have released reservation slots at the start of the weeks of Jan 18 and 24. Our last set of reservation slots will be released on Jan 31 and our online reservation portal will close once the slots are filled.

“During the collection period, we continue to prioritise the first hour of operations at our branches to serve elderly and vulnerable customers, such as those above 60 years old or who have disabilities.”


Some people are skipping the queues and switching to e-hongbaos. 

Engineer Jack Tee, 52, who downloaded DBS PayLah! for this purpose, still plans to give his wife and children physical red packets, but will be giving e-hongbaos to his relatives.

For Madam Wendy Tan, 45, she is using e-hongbaos to save paper and save the environment.

However, she still uses physical red packets for seniors because “they think it is more meaningful”.

Banks here said that they are seeing more people adopting e-hongbaos.

Mr Swaminathan Ganesh, head of digital channels and customer experience at Citibank Singapore, said: “We first launched this feature during last year’s Chinese New Year period and saw a 10 per cent increase in PayNow transactions compared to the previous month.”

Standard Chartered also foresees a “much stronger growth” in adoption of e-hongbaos this year, given limitations on physical interactions and gatherings, and new cashless habits that consumers have adopted.

Ms Tan of UOB said: “Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we encourage our customers to go digital as a safer, simpler and more sustainable way to extend Chinese New Year traditions such as hongbao gifting this Year of the Ox.

“Over the past two Chinese New Year periods, we have seen PayNow transactions increase by an average of 241 per cent year-on-year as more customers opted to send red packets digitally.”

DBS said that its customers have been receptive towards its digital gift card for Chinese New Year, which was first launched in 2019.

The amount loaded onto the electronic gift cards increased from S$1.5 million in 2019 to S$2.8 million in 2020, it said. For this Chinese New Year, the bank has received more than 7,000 registrations for more than 200,000 gift cards since Jan 16.

“We’re also seeing more corporates joining us on this digital shift in CNY gifting,” its spokesperson said, adding that about 30 companies have adopted its gift card for employee gifting in 2021, up from five last year.

Related topics

Chinese New Year bank notes ATM hongbao banks

Read more of the latest in




Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.