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Proactive policies creating “eastern wind” moment for Hong Kong in battle for fintech leadership

In the Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, military strategist Zhuge Liang prays for the “eastern wind” as the final missing element to feed the fires that would rage across the ships and the armies of warlord Cao Cao. Just like the novel, Hong Kong’s fintech fires are primed and the policy announcements made by regulators at the Hong Kong FinTech Week last November are set to fan the flames of fintech success.

As reported by the Financial Times, “Hong Kong takes on Singapore for Asia’s crypto crown”, and multiple reports around the significance of policy changes will pave the way for a flourishing digital asset and Web3 marketplace. Just recently, Hong Kong’s home-grown Web3 pioneer, Animoca Brands, announced a huge US$2 billion investment fund to ride on the growing metaverse buzz and potential in the region. This builds an extra level of confidence to the city’s ambition to establish Hong Kong as a virtual asset hub.

Hong Kong doubles down on next generation fintech

What changed? 

First the mindset has shifted significantly. In the past, the development of fintech in terms of digital assets and cryptocurrencies specifically, has been supported  but noticeably applied with the handbrake on. The recent government announcement of a new HK$30 billion (US$3.82 billion) co-investment fund, under the new Hong Kong Investment Corporation (HKIC) will inject greater impetus into the high tech, finance, and innovation landscape, signalling new intent and aggression by investing not just money, but value added resources in pushing for the development of technology and fintech. The SCMP reported financial secretary Paul Chan stating that, “This time we break free of traditional thinking as we will have active planning and be aggressive to take our best shot to push for industry development.”

Second, progressive virtual asset regulations are set to send a very strong signal to the market and open up new opportunities for all stakeholders. Retail investors are finally getting close to gaining access to virtual assets locally, dependent on the public consultation to be held in Q1 2023. The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) have also started to accept applications for virtual asset futures ETFs to be made available to retail investors.

 

The SFC also announced a coming circular on security token offerings (STOs) signaling the strategic importance placed on this digital asset segment. The SFC has often emphasised its principle of “same business, same risks, same rules” and on numerous occasions, the SFC representatives have explained to the private sector stakeholders that a digital “tokenised wrapper” on traditional securities does not make them “complex products”. One emerging opportunity here for markets is the capital-raising potential in sectors like property. Many commentators have noted how STOs could “revolutionise” how developers raise capital to fund their projects, which would significantly boost the Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area property sectors.

Pilots to seed market adoption

Hong Kong doubles down on next generation fintech

Other developments include the embracing of NFTs which were tested at the Hong Kong Fintech Week . Event participants were offered a digital badge and souvenir using blockchain technology to commemorate their participation of the main conference.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) also announced a pilot project to tokenise Government Green bond issuance for subscription by institutional investors. The goal is to showcase the commercial readiness of the city’s financial, legal and regulatory infrastructure to use blockchain and distributed ledger technology in the provision of bonds and related services. The findings of this pilot could ideally determine new ways to simplify and lower the cost of bond issuance and create even more investment opportunities and market liquidity.

More details are expected to roll out across a number of proposed policy changes. But the signal is clear,the Hong Kong government and regulators are committed to transforming digital assets to become a big part of the city’s future financial services roadmap.

Investor protection rules in fintech development race

The moves by the SFC and HKMA to proactively embrace digital assets in a more open and transparent manner has never been more necessary.Globally the call for more regulation has never been louder.

The key focus here is that digital assets can and will impact the real economy. There is no turning back and the SFC to its credit has been steadfast and clear all along about protecting investors with the consistent approach of 100% ring-fencing customer assets, unlike other authorities that have been “moving the goalposts”.

The SFC has clearly indicated a willingness to listen to the industry and find optimal solutions that balance accelerating development and investor protection. The vision is that as more digital asset platforms and service providers are licensed, where a more clearly regulated environment can give the investors an extra level of confidence to increase their exposure in this new asset class.

Bigger opportunities lie within tokenisation of assets

Too often the discussion is focused only on crypto like Bitcoin or Ethereum, but these only constitute a market of around US$1 trillion at today’s valuation.But for Hong Kong government leaders, they see a much larger opportunity in tokenising the hundreds of trillions of dollars-worth of "traditional" assets. A report by Boston Consulting Group and digital securities platform ADDX predicts a 50-fold increase in the value between 2022 and 2030, from US$310 billion to US$16.1 trillion, making up 10% of global GDP by the end of the decade.

$16.1 trillion digital assets opportunity

Banks such as HSBC has talked up this huge growth opportunity with its “10x potential of Tokenisation” report, which highlights how democratising assets through digitalisation and tokenisation will be a huge multiplying force on global asset values.

From bonds to real estate, to private equity and beyond, the real prize in the battle for fintech leadership is how these evolving elements and applications around digital assets will fuel an even bigger and stronger effect on the broader real economy. With a clearend goal in mind, Hong Kong must seize this moment while the winds are favourable.

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