Your correspondent has a suggestion to our chief executive Tung Chee-hwa for his campaign to promote a hi-tech society in Hong Kong. Forget the Cyber-Ports and the science and technology funds, Mr Tung. Drop the Growth Enterprise Market for the loser it is. There is a much better way and it was introduced by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in his budget speech yesterday. He said he would legislate to ensure the British bank payment system will be open to new competition and called on the banks and the Post Office to co-operate in order to provide banking services to all. Let's look at a little background here. The cutting edge of the new Internet technologies that have caught the world by storm is e-commerce, the idea that you can buy the goods you want by going no further than the personal computer in your home and that you can arrange payment for them that way too. The key is not the 'e' part of that equation. The technologies for that have pretty much been worked out and what really holds them back is the reasonable worries on the part of some people (your correspondent's wife) that entering credit card numbers into a computer leaves you open to a greater risk of card fraud. Let's assume that encryption technology takes care of that worry soon. What you are then left with is the commerce part of the equation. You still have to put the payment through a clearing system operated by the banks and they are not chary about taking their cut. This is what Mr Brown addressed in his budget speech. He had on hand the 400-page result of a Competition Commission investigation into the money transmission systems of British banks. The report said the banks operate the system as a monopoly and it recommended opening the system to competition as the best way to improve customer service and controlling costs. It said that, with the dramatic growth of e-commerce, non-banks, particularly technology firms, should be able to run parts of the money transmission network. It also proposed portability of account numbers, the idea that you should be able to change banks but keep your account number so that you will not face the headache of revising all your payment instructions if the bank with which you deal no longer satisfies you. It is an excellent idea. We have already introduced portability of mobile phone numbers in Hong Kong as a way of enhancing both the competition between network operators and the convenience of users. This is another step we could take along the same path. If the dominance of banks in the payments system is broken we stand to make e-commerce all that much more convenient and cheaper. It is a quick way to promote use of new hi-tech applications and put us one rung further up the ladder of achieving Mr Tung's goal of becoming a 'world-class city'. Of course the banks will object that there are many problems with an idea of this sort and that we are not really suited to it yet. They undoubtedly have some arguments in their favour. Protecting the money that you have going through the payments system is of paramount importance to you and it may be best to proceed softly, softly in this sort of thing. We have the soundness of a financial infrastructure to maintain. But you may be sure that the loudest protests the banks make to any such proposal in Hong Kong would be inspired by their zeal to protect their money rather than yours. If e-commerce continues to develop as rapidly as it is now doing, then opening of the payments system and portability of bank account numbers is almost certainly a step we will have to contemplate sooner or later to bring our financial systems into line with the evolution of the financial marketplace. What about it, Mr Tung? If you really want a hi-tech society then why not lead us now to where hi-tech is going?