Fin­tech — there’s noth­ing much to dis­credit HK for

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Fin­tech is a hot topic that has been touted as the new fron­tier in the de­vel­op­ment of Hong Kong’s fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try and the next bat­tle­ground in the fight with Sin­ga­pore for supremacy as the re­gion’s in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­ter.

But hardly any­one in the in­dus­try, academia or bu­reau­cracy has been able to draw up a fin­tech road map to show how Hong Kong should pro­ceed, other than grum­bling about the city’s back­ward­ness in this area when com­pared to neigh­bor­ing economies. Even that ac­cu­sa­tion is hardly jus­ti­fi­able as most con­sumers in fi­nan­cial ser­vices aren’t find­ing any­thing lack­ing.

Fin­tech cov­ers ev­ery­thing from the fa­mil­iar ATM ma­chines to in­ter­net bank­ing. Per­haps, Shen­zhen of­fers a much wider range of on­line ser­vices than Hong Kong, but that’s due more to meet­ing con­sumer de­mand than tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Hong Kong con­sumers aren’t all that smit­ten by on­line con­ve­nience. Many still pre­fer do­ing things the old- fash­ioned way sim­ply be­cause it’s so easy to do it.

Some years ago, in­ter­net bank­ing was an in­stant hit on the Chi­nese main­land be­cause the ser­vices of­fered by tra­di­tional banks were widely seen to be less than ef­fi­cient. A col­league of mine opened an in­ter­net bank ac­count be­cause she could send money to her par­ents in an­other province through the com­puter in the com­fort of her home. Do­ing that at a tra­di­tional bank would in­vari­ably en­tail be­ing stuck in long queues and the te­dious chore of fill­ing up forms.

There’s no such prob­lem in Hong Kong. The last time I had to go to a bank was a few years back to ar­range for the auto recharg­ing of my Oc­to­pus card.

In this free mar­ket en­vi­ron­ment, banks and other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions aren’t a sleepy lot that would re­main bliss­fully obliv­i­ous to their coun­ter­parts in other economies rac­ing past them. Nei­ther would they, be­ing hard­nosed busi­ness peo­ple, spend money on in­tro­duc­ing a ser­vice just to win brag­ging rights.

Those peo­ple who ar­gue that Hong Kong is fin­tech de­fi­cient should point out spe­cific ar­eas where Hong Kong is fall­ing be­hind other re­gional economies. Gen­er­al­iza­tion is not go­ing to do any­one any good.

PAKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

The oft-cited ac­cu­sa­tion of Hong Kong lag­ging be­hind its rivals in fin­tech de­vel­op­ment may not be jus­ti­fi­able, and those who hold that view should point out spe­cific ar­eas where Hong Kong should im­prove to bet­ter serve the cus­tomers, ex­perts urged.

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