Hong Kong, with crypto hub ambitions, urges lenders to support virtual-asset firms with ‘their legitimate need for bank accounts’


Hong Kong urged banks to provide services to licensed virtual-asset firms, part of the city’s push to become a crypto hub and a stance that contrasts with a crackdown on the digital-asset sector in the US.

Banks should support regulated virtual-asset businesses with “their legitimate need for bank accounts” in the city, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said in a circular late Thursday signed by Deputy Chief Executive Arthur Yuen.

The statement also enjoined lenders to train staff and form dedicated teams to support the digital-asset sector while avoiding a “wholesale de-risking approach” that turns away new industries or certain nationalities.

A major challenge for crypto companies globally is that banks are increasingly skeptical about the industry following a market crash and blowups like the FTX exchange. The collapse of crypto friendly lenders Signature Bank and Silvergate Capital Corp. in this year’s US banking crisis was a particularly big blow, forcing the sector to scour the globe for alternative payment rails.

US Stance

The prolonged turmoil led the US to turn up the regulatory heat on the crypto industry, including warnings about liquidity risks stemming from it. A growing number of virtual-asset businesses have exited the world’s largest economy or could consider doing so, while others are pursuing non-US expansion.

In contrast, Hong Kong plans to let retail investors trade major tokens like Bitcoin and Ether in a new licensing regime for crypto platforms due June 1. 

The Hong Kong arms of Bank of Communications Co., Bank of China Ltd. and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank have either started offering banking services to local crypto firms or have made inquiries to the field, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Hong Kong’s biggest virtual bank, ZA Bank Ltd., plans to offer token-to-fiat currency conversions over licensed exchanges.

Meeting With Bankers

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, and the Securities and Futures Commission co-hosted a round-table Friday for lenders and virtual-asset platforms.

About 20 banks and a similar number of virtual-asset service providers attended, a spokesperson for the monetary authority said in a statement.

One of the attendees was Marco Lim, managing partner at blockchain-focused investment manager MaiCapital. He said a key takeaway is that banks “shouldn’t say no” to accounts crypto firms need for operations like payroll. 

ZA Bank’s Alternate Chief Executive Devon Sin also attended, along with Ken Lo, co-founder at HKbitEX, a crypto exchange applying for an SFC license. Sin said “banks are more willing to talk to” crypto businesses, while Lo called for discussions about the banking needs of non-licensed firms in the web3 sector.

The nebulous term “web3” refers to a vision of a decentralized internet built around blockchains, crypto’s underlying technology. 

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