The annual tradition of exchanging red envelopes loaded with cash on the Chinese New Year is getting a 21st-century makeover.
Though handing over physical banknotes, or "lucky money," to friends and family has long been a tradition in Chinese culture, celebrants worldwide are increasingly using digital tools to exchange offerings--a signal that the white-hot virtual currency industry will only get hotter.
Social messaging services, like WeChat, can be used to deposit funds directly into another's checking account. The application, which is powered by Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings, released a new feature last Sunday that allows its 600 million users to distribute monetary gifts to others. WeChat’s rival, Alibaba’s Alipay, offered a similar service last year.
People are also starting to give bitcoins to celebrate the spring festival. ANX, a Hong Kong-based bitcoin exchange, has given away $64,000 in vouchers for the cryptocurrency at shopping malls. Each voucher totaled $1.29, according to the company.
Online transactions and digital currencies are becoming big business. The value of all bitcoins in circulation is close to $10 billion, with transactions averaging 2,554 per hour. And people the world over are increasingly using digital payment tools instead of cash and plastic to buy everything from Uber rides to on-demand Chinese lion dances.
If you're in the digital money world or if you're thinking about entering, consider this opportunity knocking. Now may be an ideal time to position your company as a resource for red envelopes and beyond.
U.S. retailers such as Overstock.com and TigerDirect have begun accepting bitcoins. Even the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team, which is constructing a cash-free stadium, recently announced that it's accepting the cryptocurrency.
Still, dealing in digital payments is a far cry from accepting bitcoins. Not only are virtual currencies typically extremely volatile--given to dramatic swings in value--they face uncertain futures as regulators consider new restrictions. Plus, if you don't understand virtual currencies, there's a very good chance your customers don't understand them, either.
"There's a lot of information out there, but for someone who's not so tech savvy, it takes some time for them to get into it," ANX chief executive Ken Lo told the Agence France-Presse.
Even with those very real downsides, digital currencies would seem to be enjoying something of an unfettered moment. "The responses so far have been very positive, with many people being very happy to learn they have just received their first bitcoin," Lo told CNN.