Services offering the exchange of brand new banknotes have begun flooding the Internet in Vietnam as the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday is only a month away.
Handing out ‘li xi,’ or lucky money, is one of the most awaited and joyful activities during the traditional Tet holiday in the Southeast Asian country.
In order to make this event more enjoyable, people often prepare perfectly-looking banknotes, which are usually brand new, not folded or wrinkled, and have preferably not yet been used in any actual transaction, to put in red envelopes.
The red envelopes are often given by adults to children on the first days of the lunar year to celebrate their new age, and in return the young would wish the elders a year of luck, fortune, and health.
‘Li xi’ is believed to be the symbol of a fluke, as the more ‘li xi’ a person gives or receives, the more luck they will have during the new year.
High demand, hefty fees
According to Thu Huong, a resident in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City, she often asks her friend who works at a bank to help her exchange new VND10,000 (US$0.43) and VND20,000 ($0.86) banknotes.
That friend, however, turned Huong down this year as she had already agreed to help too many people, forcing the woman to seek for online services.
“The charge is too high,” the woman stated, referring to one website.
“The rate is eight percent, meaning I will have to pay VND80,000 [$3.44] if I want to exchange VND1 million [$43],” she elaborated.
This rate is even higher, from 10 to up to 30 percent, when it comes to banknotes of smaller denominations since, according to the operator of the website, such bills are rare.
Another service provider in District 11 said in an advertisement posted on their Facebook page that customers should hurry up as brand new banknotes will quickly run out as the holiday approaches.
The charges at this shop are updated on a daily basis, but customers are given a discount if they exchange over VND20 million ($860) at a time.
In order to compete, other websites also have their own discount policies and offer gifts for clients.
Those who wish to stand out this Tet can also spend extra on banknotes having lucky serial numbers.
For example, a set of nine VND1,000 ($0.043) banknotes whose serial numbers have five identical digits (from 11111 to 99999) are selling for VND600,000 ($26).
Old bills that have already gone out of circulation are also being offered at a high price.
Response from the central bank
According to Le Thi Thanh Hang, deputy director of the State Bank of Vietnam branch in Ho Chi Minh City, the agency has yet to issue new banknotes of VND10,000 denominations or under since November.
“In order to have new banknotes, these online services must have stockpiled them since last year,” Hang elaborated.
The new bills are expected to be released within the next two weeks, but in limited amounts.
“We will only meet the demand for cash in real transactions, not for lucky money,” Hang stated.
This is also part of the directive from the prime minister, in a bid to ensure treasury security and safety during the Lunar New Year.
Hang added it is illegal for exchange services to charge a high rate.
Authorities will take a closer look at the situation and fine those who violate monetary regulations, she continued.