By combining an electronic certification system with Hong Kong's new ID card, the government hopes to attract two million Hong Kong people to use e-cert to promote online trading and electronic banking. E-cert, launched by Hongkong Post three years ago, is a form of electronic identification for trading stocks or conducting bank transactions online. Since then, only 200,000 people have applied for the service, but Postmaster-General Allan Chiang Yam-wang expects the number to increase 10 times in the next four years. His optimism stems from a government requirement that all Hong Kong residents must change to the new ID cards by 2007. The staggered changeover started last month, with people being given the option of having the e-cert embedded in their smart ID card free of charge for a year. Mr Chiang said one in four people getting the new ID card had opted for the e-cert, which had added 40,000 new users in just one month. 'The new ID card programme is a golden opportunity to promote e-cert and it is reasonable to believe we are going to have two million e-cert holders by the end of the four-year ID card exchange programme,' Mr Chiang said. Banks and stockbrokers would accept clients trading online without an e-cert, but would accept larger transactions from e-cert holders, he said. E-cert would also enable holders to shop, bid in online auctions and bet on horse races and soccer matches via the internet. Hongkong Post had not decided if it would charge e-cert holders the HK$50 annual fee after the one-year free introductory period ended, but Mr Chiang said customers might still not have to pay because shops, banks and stockbrokers might be willing to cover the charge to attract customers. Hongkong Post will expand its e-shopping business by linking with some overseas retailers to offer online shopping. It is also in talks with Bank of East Asia and Hang Seng Bank to offer more electronic banking services to e-cert holders. These moves are part of a government plan to promote e-commerce and cut Hongkong Post's losses. Last year Hongkong Post's losses stood at HK$50 million and $80 million the year before.