Hang Seng Bank has joined the ranks of foreign financial institutions that have been given the go-ahead to launch online banking services on the mainland. The HSBC subsidiary's head of commercial banking David Tam Wai-hung said yesterday it had received approval from the mainland's banking watchdog - the People's Bank of China (PBOC) - to provide online banking services for retail customers, and expected to launch the service around the middle of next year. A bank spokesman said that before the launching of the service, Hang Seng Bank would still need to obtain a permit from the State Commercial Encryption Committee. He was speaking at the bank's briefing on Wednesday announcing the addition of trading, cash management and loan functions to its local business online banking services. Foreign banks have been eager to set up Internet banking services on the mainland, where branch networks are outnumbered by those of their mainland counterparts. So far only HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and the Bank of East Asia have been given the green light to operate online banks there. Meanwhile, Mr Tam said Hang Seng Bank wanted to introduce its online business banking services on the mainland by the end of next year. Services provided probably would be similar to those available to Hong Kong customers, Mr Tam said. 'I think that initially, because the services were launched in Hong Kong first, the first version [available on the mainland] may not be as complete,' he said. 'But these types of services should not be too hard to introduce to the mainland, and it really depends on the stage of the development when the mainland launch comes.' However, the PBOC had yet to grant the bank a licence for online business services, he said. Originally launched in August, Hang Seng's online business banking allows businesses to carry out functions such as payroll, money transfers and foreign exchange quotations.