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Hong Kong Continues its Push toward Becoming a Major Crypto Centre

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In an attempt to transform into a global crypto hub, Hong Kong has been actively pushing its banking sector to accommodate the needs of cryptocurrency exchanges. The birthplace of stablecoin Tether and the former home of the now-bankrupt exchange FTX, Hong Kong is poised to take a leadership role in the crypto world. This active push towards crypto business, however, has raised eyebrows and sparked questions within the finance community of the city-state.

Major players in Hong Kong’s banking industry, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, are caught in a bind due to their past experiences with money-laundering lapses. A decade ago, HSBC was penalized in the US for its role in assisting Latin American drug cartels. In 2021, it faced similar issues in the UK for multiple failures, including servicing the leader of a criminal gang. These experiences have made the banks cautious about embracing crypto exchanges as clients, primarily due to the risk of handling illicit funds.

Right now, it appears that HSBC is becoming very interested in this emerging field of cryptocurrencies and starting to look at reaping its rewards. Recently, we have reported that it announced it’s starting to offer support for Bitcoin and Ethereum futures Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). The bank added these ETFs to its user-friendly mobile application “Easy Invest”, due to them having identified that there is “a clear customer need” for this kind of offering.

The risk associated with cryptocurrency exchanges has been further underscored by recent lawsuits against Binance and Coinbase by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC’s widening crackdown on the crypto industry has made even the provision of basic banking services to these exchanges seem fraught with peril.

Despite these risks, Hong Kong’s regulators are seemingly determined to cultivate crypto businesses. They have been encouraging banks to ease the path for crypto exchanges and have even met with founders facing regulatory hurdles in the US. Tyler Winklevoss, co-founder of the New York-based crypto exchange Gemini, recently described a “great meeting” with Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission on Twitter, suggesting that the territory is ready to play a leading role in the crypto industry.

However, confusion persists among Hong Kong’s finance community regarding the motives behind this push for crypto firms. The financial sector is struggling to comprehend this, especially considering the recent high-profile industry failures and the contrasting stance taken by the US. While some speculate that Hong Kong is being used by Beijing as a testing ground for crypto regulations, others believe that it is a strategy to maintain Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub amidst the growing competition from Singapore.

Regulators are trying to persuade institutions to start offering crypto

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has summoned HSBC, Standard Chartered, and other banks, urging them to provide basic banking services that would enable crypto exchanges to operate in the city-state. The regulator has even suggested that they consider serving unlicensed crypto firms that are in the process of applying for a license. However, the regulator has been unable to provide solid assurance against the risk of handling illicit funds.

In essence, the situation is much more than just the advent of cryptocurrency. For the leaders of institutions like HSBC, it represents a challenge of juggling between the competing demands of the east and west, navigating through the rapidly changing political ties, a predicament that will most likely intensify in the future.

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