Visitors get a taste of Chinese online payments

Fintech Week is proving to be a global PR bonanza for Hong Kong. Local media have been buzzing for the past two days about Alipay’s decision to open its payment platform inside the Chinese mainland to foreigners, the announcement of which was clearly timed to coincide with the Hong Kong event. And Mu Changchun, the central bank’s whizzkid overseeing the imminent launch of the digital Renminbi, kept the momentum going yesterday by suggesting foreigners could use it, too.

As reported by SCMP, Mu said the central bank is working to separate the virtual currency from the banking system. “Actually it could be decoupled from traditional bank accounts,” he said during an event at Fintech Week, which is being held at the AsiaWorld-Expo. “Thus, those who don’t have bank accounts in China can still open a digital wallet and enjoy mobile payment services in China.”

Mu is a gifted thinker. His online classes related to Facebook’s Libra and China’s need for cryptocurrency regulation (and security) have hundreds of thousands of devotees, for good reason. The world got a taste of what he is working on this week, courtesy of Fintech Week.

The three-day event has meanwhile been providing plenty of opportunities for locals to tout Hong Kong’s advantages as a fintech center. Eddie Yue Wai-man, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, laid out an especially rosy picture, pointing out that more than 90% of retail banks in Hong Kong are or will be using artificial intelligence in their operations.

Yue was keen to highlight the big changes to come under a memorandum signed between Hong Kong Interbank Clearing Limited – jointly owned by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and the Hong Kong Association of Banks – and the central bank, which will see Hong Kong’s blockchain-based trade finance platform, eTradeConnect, linked up with the central bank. 

Yue also highlighted the establishment of the BIS (Bank for International Settlements) Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre. The hub, which started its operation this week, will facilitate both regional collaboration and the application of central banks’ technology, according to HKMA.

Besides this, HKMA has also launched the “Fin+Tech Collaboration Platform” with Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, which will organise a series of events, such as accelerators and hackathons.

The University of Hong Kong, meanwhile, grabbed its moment in the spotlight during the week by launching two new Fintech indices.

The Hong Kong FinTech Growth Index has four sub-indices covering Business Environment, Business Performance, Investment in R&D and Demand for Talent. It is based on responses to an annual survey by 38 companies, including start-ups, unicorns and traditional bank/insurance companies, selected by an advisory board comprising professionals from the local fintech industry.  

The Hong Kong FinTech Buzz Index presents a “quantified sentiment” gauged from local fintech-related news articles over the past three months.

Today the show marched across the border for a visit to China’s fintech giants based in Shenzhen. Tencent, Ping An and others with large-scale engineering armies deployed to win global fintech battles provided fascinating materials for delegates. Stories will likely be filling global media headlines and social media feeds for months to come.

Obviously stung by Alibaba getting the jump on it, Tencent announced it would open its WeChat Pay service to nearly all of the big international credit-card groups. At time of hitting the send button today, nothing had come out of Ping An headquarters, but China’s biggest fintech player of them all, by far, is usually lower-key, anyway. Its PR team probably had its hands full today explaining to the media how the facial-recognition ordering system works at its cafeteria. Stay tuned for more.

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