Hong Kong’s Payments Evolution: Towards a New Era of Innovation

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Hong Kong is a highly banked, wealthy region which enjoys excellent digital and physical infrastructure. To hear about the financial hub’s payment evolution, we hear from leading ePayment technology and eCommerce management company Payment Asia which provides customised all-around payment strategies to more than 10,000 Asian and multinational companies.

We speak with Lance Lau, Head of Sales at the Hong Kong Team of Payment Asia. Established in 1999 in Hong Kong, Payment Asia has over 20 years’ experience in providing eCommerce payment solution services to local and international markets. Taking the lead in the ePayment technology and eCommerce management market in Asia, the company helps merchants to continue to grow in the wave of technological development.

Over the last two decades, Payment Asia has expanded its business from Southeast Asia to the international market, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, the United Kingdom and Canada. 

Tell us a little bit about the current payment’s environment in Hong Kong?

The current payments environment has been very interesting as we are witnessing a stage of transformation – from cash transactions to the digital era with traditional cashless payment such as credit and debit cards being replaced by eWallets, mobile payments, virtual banking and the future usage of cryptocurrencies.

What payments trends do you expect to see in Hong Kong in 2021? How is Payment Asia going to respond to these?

With the pandemic still affecting everyone across the globe, most merchants are finding ways to improve the purchase experience for their clients while also implementing the online/eCommerce elements to their business.

At Payment Asia, we have designed and self-developed a mobile payment application called PA Pay – specifically for merchants – which integrates multiple payment channels, including credit cards, debit cards, UnionPay and a variety of eWallets, and can be applied to POS or smartphone operating systems.

We offer various online payment solutions including Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, Alipay and WeChat Pay, which integrate with online stores, H5 web pages and applets through API. We can also guide merchants and personal clients in the process of setting up international bank accounts (IBAN) for payment settlements and operate as an offshore virtual bank.

On top of payment processing solutions, Payment Asia’s services also cover online and offline eCommerce payment strategies, payment gateways integration, eCommerce management, artificial intelligence, big data and more.

What is Hong Kong’s current position in China’s payment evolution?

Over the last decade, China has been a pioneer in implementing ePayments, propelled by China UnionPay, Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay.

The FinTech industry is taking off amid a backdrop of growing consumption and the large, tech-savvy millennial generation. China’s FinTech Explosion explores the transformative potential of the country’s financial technology industry, covering subsectors such as digital payment systems, peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding, credit card issuance and internet banks, blockchain finance and virtual currencies, and online insurance.

In 2014, the People’s Bank of China established the Digital Currency Institute of the People’s Bank of China where a specialist research team discusses technical and regulatory issues in relation to the development of Digital Currencies in China.

Since August 2020, the People’s Bank has been carrying out pilot trials of Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) in various cities across China. The estimate is that 30%-50% of cash will be replaced by the DCEP within two to three years.

Features and capabilities of DCEP:

  • DCEP uses digital tokens and blockchain technology to represent a country’s official currency. DCEP differs from cryptocurrencies in that it has the status of legal tender and is centralised and regulated by a country’s monetary authority.
  • DCEP is a digital version of the Renminbi (RMB).
  • DCEP is a sovereign currency issued and backed by the People’s Bank of China and controlled by the Chinese Government which will be able to track the currency moving through its economy and monitor its usage.
  • DCEP is said to be secure, have controllable anonymity and prevent counterfeiting. It also addresses the high costs of cash issuance and handling, and difficulties in tracking and fraud.
  • Like cash, the DCEP cannot be refused as payment. The People’s Bank will exchange DCEP with commercial banks and payment operators, which can then distribute DCEP to their customers via eWallets.
  • The use of DCEP will be convenient for the public and provide more efficiency in the financial system, helping China bring its unbanked population into the mainstream economy and accelerate the move to a cashless society.
  • DCEP also helps to internationalise the RMB’s use in trade settlements and presents an attractive alternative to the established international funds-transfer system, SWIFT, with lower transaction fees.

On 4th December 2020, Eddie Yue, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), announced that HKMA and the Institute are discussing the technical pilot testing of using DCEP for making cross-border payments and are making the corresponding technical preparations.

How is Payment Asia contributing to this?

Payment Asia has always delivered the advantage of being in Hong Kong to our merchants. We are now implementing blockchain technology to our payment platform and are actively developing an emerging cryptocurrency gateway. This can be seen as a baby step but is still an efficient and effective way to get merchants to warm-up and be ready for the new payment era.

At present, 36% of the SMEs in the United States accept Bitcoin (BTC), whereas Wikipedia, Microsoft, Expedia, AT&T, Burger King, KFC and Subway have also started accepting BTC. Our value proposition is to provide merchants with a familiar payment gateway experience while bridging the gap between digital and fiat currencies. Customers will be able to have this new option as their payment method while merchants will be protected on the cryptocurrency’s fluctuation.

Features of Payment Asia’s Crypto Gateway:

  • Acceptance of major digital currencies (e.g., Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, BCH, Stellar, USDT etc.) for online and offline payments.
  • Instant locking of rate to minimise merchants’ risk.
  • Withdrawal of funds in less than a business day.
  • Payment to merchant’s suppliers in 200+ countries with digital currencies.

What does the future hold for Hong Kong’s payments industry?

With its status as a key Asian financial hub, Hong Kong will always be an important part of the global payments industry.

Supporting this, Hong Kong’s Stock Exchange raised $51 billion from 154 new listings in 2020.

Numbers like this make Hong Kong irresistible for many investors, according to Tara Joseph from the American Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong.

“The flow of money that comes in and out of Hong Kong on a daily basis, that goes into mainland China and comes out, is very hard to replicate,” she said during an interview with BBC’s Asia Business Report.

A city with attractive tax rates and a business-friendly environment is the natural successor to Hong Kong. Being the gate into the Chinese market, a lot of international businesses will still prefer Hong Kong as the processing hub for their B2B and B2C activities.

How can Payment Asia help merchants with digital transformation?

One of Payment Asia’s strengths is based on creating a landscape for merchants and businesses in order to generate traffic and convert this into sales through our payment technology.

As transactions are made, we are implementing big data for our merchants, through our secure system and a robust business intelligence system.

We use this data to create inbound and outbound digital marketing strategies for merchants, in order to increase their conversion rates.

In addition, we have also developed a chatbot platform that uses artificial intelligence to realise real-time conversations to strengthen the interaction between brands and consumers.

What is on Payment Asia’s agenda for 2021?

With our extensive experience in the market, moving forward into the post-COVID world, we aim to redefine the benchmark of online/offline and mobile payments – not just in Hong Kong but on a global scale.