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Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA)

Hong Kong draws 29 applications for virtual bank licences

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 5:07pm

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said on Friday it had received 29 applications for the first batch of virtual bank licences, with the applicants ranging from telecommunications operators and financial technology companies to global banks.

“The HKMA has received a total of 29 applications as of 5pm on August 31. Since a lot of these were submitted over the past two days, the HKMA will need to assess if they are in order,” a spokesman said on Friday without disclosing any further information.

The spokesman said interested parties could still submit the application after Friday but they would not be in the first batch of processing. The HKMA earlier said 70 parties showed interested in the licences.

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Six groups of applicants confirmed with the South China Morning Post that they have applied for a virtual bank licence by Friday’s deadline. The HKMA began accepting applications in May for the licences which will enable banks to operate online in the city without physical branches. The regulator set August 31 as the deadline for the first batch of applications.

Confirmed applicants included Standard Chartered Bank, online lender WeLab, a consortium led by CASH Financial Services Group, and Zhong An Bank allied with China Citic Bank. In addition, HKT, a joint venture by Bank of East Asia, Airwallex and Sequoia Capital China, also submitted an application ahead of the deadline.

Smartphone maker Xiaomi and Ping An Insurance declined to comment on press reports that they were likely to file an application.

Payment operator Yedpay! as well as veteran US investor Jim Rogers funded ITF opted not to file by the first round deadline, but said they were likely to do so by the second round.

Bank of East Asia deputy chief executive Adrian Li Man-kiu said services offered under the virtual bank format would help his bank to capture new customers.

“Our virtual bank will use new technology to serve small and medium sized customers as well as individuals who are now underserved by traditional banks,” Li said.

He added that the joint venture would have initial capital of HK$1 billion (US$127.4 million) and would be expected to break even in about three years.

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“WeLab has submitted the application to the HKMA with hopes to be among the first batch of companies to operate virtual banking in Hong Kong,” said Simon Loong, founder and chief executive of WeLab.

“Getting the license would be a recognition of WeLab, a home-grown fintech company, as well as an affirmation and encouragement to the local fintech industry. We would like to leverage our fintech experience to offer smart banking services to customers as well as to further promote financial inclusion.”

CASH has formed a strategic partnership with Shenzhen IT firm Forms Syntron Information (HK) and mobile payment solution company QFPay Haojin FinTech, the company said in a stock exchange filing on Thursday.

Benson Chan, executive director of CASH, said the group wants to establish a virtual bank to help develop Hong Kong’s smart banking services and to offer better services for millennials, young families, small companies and start-ups.

Charlotte Robins, partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said the applicants need to pay attention to their shareholder structure and how to handle operational risk.

“Among other things, successful applicants will have effectively illustrated their understanding of the risk exposure in the running of the virtual bank and how they plan to appropriately manage those risks,” Robins said.