During my 24 years in the banking industry, there were two projects that I'm extremely proud of. What, you may say, only two projects in 24 years? Of course not! There had been several but among them, only two stood out; two that I'm very proud to be associated with.
When I first joined Ban Hin Lee Bank in 1977, the bank was already issuing a very nice coinbox in the shape of the bank's building in Beach Street, George Town. Soon afterwards, the management decided to replace that design with a series of new coinboxes that followed the Chinese zodiac signs. It was an ambitious decision but it was a right decision that set the bank onwards along a path of revitalisation.
The first Chinese zodiac coinbox appeared in 1978 to coincide with that year's Chinese New Year. That year was, of course, the Year of the Horse so the coinbox was shaped as a horse's head. In the following years, the Goat and Monkey coinboxes came out.
Because the idea was such a novelty - a new coinbox design every year AND coinciding with the Chinese zodiac signs - it started a craze in Penang. In all the branches of the bank, people started coming in to open savings accounts after Chinese New Year just to collect the coinboxes. The branch counters would be jam-packed with new depositors and we, the front-line staff, would be working non-stop from 10 o'clock in the morning until way past three o'clock in the afternoon. You see, 3pm would be the time that the bank doors would close for the day but the banking hall would still be filled with people waiting patiently to open their accounts and collect the coinboxes. Only one word to describe all that hard work: CRAZY.
In 1980, I was transferred to the Head Office and took over the coinbox project. It meant that I had to negotiate with the coinbox supplier every year to get a new design agreed upon, and the prices too. So I was involved directly in this project for seven years from the Monkey design (1981) till the Tiger coinbox (1987). After that, I was transferred to another department in the bank and another person took over the coinbox project until the 12-year series was completed.
Incidentally during those seven years, I got to know Mr Colin Edmonds of United Technologies well. I believe that eventually, he supplied all the 12 coinbox designs to the bank. While the project was with me, he was very accommodative to the bank's demands and we got on very well professionally. Indeed, there was even a year that he turned up for the bank's annual dinner with a band and gave his Elvis impersonation, crooning away to the delight of Madam Teoh Phaik Kheng, the mother of former Ban Hin Lee Bank executive director Jimmy Yeap Leong Aun who was shot dead in an unfortunate botched up kidnap attempt along Kelawei Road in Penang in October 1985.
However, in the 12 years that this series ran, the bank issued 13 designs altogether. The year 1984 was going to be the Year of the Pig and so in 1983, I started looking into the design of the Pig coinbox. But we recognised that a Pig coinbox will definitely not go down well at all with the bank's Muslim customers. Although the bank did not have many Muslim customers, we were all already very sensitive to their religious needs. So I had to propose to the management that for 1984, the bank would also issue a different coinbox for customers who did not want the Pig. That was how in 1984, Ban Hin Lee Bank ended up by issuing both a Pig coinbox and a standing Bear coinbox. Incidentally, the Pig coinbox was a HUGE success for the bank because the design was so traditional: a real piggy bank for savers.
I'm bringing all this up because yesterday, I was reading that McDonald's in Singapore has pulled the pig character from its latest toy promotions. The pig soft toy was expected to have been part of a 12-character Doraemon set designed after the Chinese zodiac signs but the fast-food giant decided not to include the pig toy to avoid offending Muslim customers. Instead, they replaced it with a Doraemon Cupid toy.
Now, how can they do that? A Chinese zodiac series of any collection is simply not complete if they do not include the pig character. Already, I hear that the move has upset Chinese customers in Singapore. For example, one of them, Daphne Koh, said: "I was born in the Year of the Pig and would have collected the whole set. But without the pig, it makes no sense for me to do so."
Perhaps McDonald's should just take a leaf from Ban Hin Lee Bank and come out with both a pig character and a cupid character, and let their customers decide which one they want. That would solve all their problems and keep everyone happy.