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‘Cash is king’ mindset is halting Hong Kong’s digital revolution, says top Google official

Over 20pc of HK companies interviewed [for Google white paper] were not actively engaged in digital transformation projects, including big data, digital marketing, and cloud computing initiatives

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 11:09pm

Despite Hong Kong’s high internet penetration and smartphone usage, the city continues to lag in consumer, corporate and government digital engagement compared to other regions, according to a new Google white paper.

Google Hong Kong’s “Think 2020: Smarter Digital City” white paper, released on Tuesday, found 81 per cent of Hongkongers surveyed perceived themselves as digitally savvy, but in reality only 42 per cent were truly digital by using services such as mobile banking or online collaboration apps.

The findings may come as a surprise, especially in one of the world’s most digitally connected cities with a 237 per cent mobile penetration rate and over 83 per cent household broadband penetration.

According to statistics platform Statista, over 70 per cent of Hong Kong users own over two devices.

However, many of these devices are used on a “very surface level”, said Leonie Valentine, Google Hong Kong’s managing director for sales and operations.

For example, just a third of Hong Kong mobile users surveyed have used peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile transfers and mobile payments, with 30 per cent of respondents admitting they didn’t even know what P2P payments are.

The difference between perceived and actual digital awareness among Hong Kong residents is in part due to a more traditional and conservative mindset, she added.

It comes down to this issue of trust. Hongkongers generally have a tendency to trust the physical, they trust their cards, we’re still a city that likes to issue cheques and use chops, and use traditional payment methods
Leonie Valentine, Google Hong Kong’s managing director for sales and operations

“It comes down to this issue of trust. Hongkongers generally have a tendency to trust the physical, they trust their cards, we’re still a city that likes to issue cheques and use chops, and use traditional payment methods,” said Valentine in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

“Look at our near neighbours, [where people can] use apps to pay for taxi rides. But in Hong Kong we’ve been held back a little bit by … the ‘cash is king’ mindset.”

Valentine urged the Hong Kong government to become more digitised so that Hongkongers have more touchpoints to familiarise themselves with the technology.

“You build trust by having more interactions. Policymakers and the government and corporates really have a role to play by putting more things online. When consumers get used to [doing things] online all the time, more trust [is built].”

The white paper, commissioned by Google with research conducted by Nielsen, also found that Hong Kong corporates are only “gradually” embracing digital technology and transformation, despite regarding being digital as critical to success.

Over 20 per cent of Hong Kong companies interviewed were not actively engaged in digital transformation projects, which include big data, digital marketing, and cloud computing initiatives.

Companies who do not adapt to the digital landscape may find themselves quickly losing out to rivals who are effectively using digital initiatives to engage customers, Valentine said.

“Hong Kong has traditionally relied on demand, [building digital services] when residents start to ask for them. Places like Singapore have done it supply-side … where services are built ahead of consumers realising that they need them. A lot of it is about getting ahead of their competition,” Valentine said.

“There’s always a balance between understanding what consumers would like to see in services, but there [should also] be an element of being bold and brave. [Hong Kong should] make investments in digitalisation ... and look at the global trends and opportunities to leapfrog some of the other cities in Asia.”

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