Digital hongbao business booms

Updated: 2015-03-11 07:38

By Qiu Quanlin(China Daily USA)

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Giving red envelopes, or hongbao, full of "lucky money" to his employees during Lunar New Year is a tradition for Ma Huateng, CEO of Tencent Holdings.

It was this tradition that prompted Ma to conceive the idea of sending lucky money online during the nation's most important celebration, he said.

"Chinese people, especially in Guangdong province, usually give lucky money to friends and relatives during the Spring Festival holiday. So why not try sending the money via the Internet, given that we have developed a large number of online users?" Ma said.

Tencent, one of the largest Internet companies by market value, developed the service via its social networking platform division WeChat, China's most widely used mobile social application, during last year's Spring Festival to attract new mobile payment users.

This year, a growing number of Internet companies, such as Baidu and Alibaba Group Holdings, followed suit and introduced their own envelope services.

"It was a totally different experience to send money online," Ma said, adding that the number of WeChat users who sent or received lucky money online this year rose 20-fold compared with last year's Spring Festival.

Digital hongbao business booms

Ma, a native of Guangdong province, said he sent more than 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to employees, friends and relatives during this year's holiday.

Sources at Tencent said Guangdong was China's leading province in terms of the number of red envelopes delivered via WeChat, followed closely by Zhejiang province, Beijing, Jiangsu province and Shanghai.

Reporters asked Ma, who is a deputy to the National People's Congress, to send online hongbao to WeChat users during the annual session.

"It's no surprise that giving lucky money in electronic form has become a trendy spin on the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes during Spring Festival," Ma said.

According to Tencent, online red envelopes worth a combined 3 billion yuan were sent and received via WeChat during the holiday, which ended on Feb 24.

Sources at Alibaba indicated that more than 100 million people used its mobile red envelope service via its payment platform, Alipay, during the holiday.

Ma said the rising popularity of electronic hongbao is a result of WeChat's efficient service.

"Sending and receiving electronic red envelopes enabled more and more people to have direct experience of mobile payments," he said.

However, his ambitions in the field of mobile payments go far beyond the red envelope service. At the NPC meeting, Ma said Internet companies should improve the efficiency of online services to enable more people to use mobile payment services.

(China Daily USA 03/11/2015 page5)