Fintech

Bank of China embracing blockchain use in Hong Kong

Bank already processing 85pc of its mortgage-related property valuations using the technology, as well as increasing numbers of trade finance deals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 10:31pm

Bank of China Hong Kong (BOCHK) now handles almost all its real estate appraisals via blockchain, as part of a concerted push into financial technology (fintech) and smart banking, officials revealed on Monday.

The lender is processing 85 per cent of its mortgage-related property valuations using its own digital ledger, according to general manager of information technology Rocky Cheng Chung-ngam.

Speaking at the official opening of its new branch in Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP), Cheng said it has also been carrying out increasing numbers of trade finance deals on blockchain.

Property valuations are needed to calculate monthly mortgage payments, but can now be done faster and in a more transparent way using blockchain, he said.

“In the past, banks and [real estate] appraisers had to exchange faxes and emails to produce and deliver physical certificates,” Cheng said. “Now the process can be done on blockchain in seconds.”

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HKSTP is a statutory body based next to Sha Tin racecourse which is charged with transforming Hong Kong into a regional hub for innovation and technology development.

The new BOCHK branch there will run 24 hours a day with video-banking services offering transactions and product applications. It is the first bank branch in the park.

“We decided to open a smart branch here, not only because it made operational sense but in the hope of interacting with other technology firms to develop more applicable [forms of] fintech,” added Cheng.

BOCHK joins four other major banks now actively using a blockchain-powered trade finance platform, Cheng said.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the de facto central bank, set out seven core initiatives to bolster fintech last September, in reaction to criticism the city was lagging behind competitors in terms of embracing such technologies.

It launched its own trade finance platform last year to reduce the risk of fraudulent activity and operational costs.

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At the branch opening on Monday, Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Innovation and Technology, said fintech will continue to be a priority area for the government.

He added HKMA is poised to launch a “Faster Payment System” which will allow real-time money transfers between banks, as well as wider use of electronic payment systems such as Alipay and WeChat Pay.

BOCHK’s Cheng said the bank would also be joining the HKMA blockchain, as it will offer added benefits “since it has larger scale, and will draw more participants”.

Around 150 BOCHK staff are now dedicated to fintech, a 50 per cent rise in two years, he added.

It has already extended finger vein identification to a third of its cash machines in the city, and is also working with facial-recognition software company SenseTime to integrate that technology into its retail operations.

SenseTime Group raised US$600 million from Alibaba Group Holding and other investors at the start of this month at a valuation of more than US$3 billion, becoming the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence start-up. Alibaba owns South China Morning Post.

BOCHK has around 200 branches across Hong Kong, and 1,000 cash machines or other self-services banking services.

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