As Head of Fintech at InvestHK, the department of the Hong Kong SAR Government responsible for attracting Foreign Direct Investment, King’s mission is to foster a more vibrant fintech ecosystem in Hong Kong and Greater Bay Area (GBA) where King has the privilege to work closely with major fintech stakeholders worldwide – leading financial services institutions, fintech companies, accelerators, innovation labs, investors, regulators, universities, etc. In another complementary role, King also serves as Visiting Lecturer in Fintech at Institute for China Business (中国商学院) of The University of Hong Kong in China in which King has extraordinary exposure to Mainland China fintech and financial services executives.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KrASIA (Kr): You’ve gone through roles of being a government leader, entrepreneur, angel investor, lecturer and now head of FinTech at InvestHK. Which is your favourite hat to wear?
King Leung (KL): This question is really prompting some self-reflection! Honestly, I feel that my current role at InvestHK suits me the best and it is my favourite.
Putting things into context, working for the government obviously provided me a platform to contribute and impact to our economy and society on a much larger scale. This period of my life has been very gratifying.
And I would not discount my prior experiences – being an entrepreneur allowed me to understand the funding and business needs of startup founders, my management consulting career offered invaluable exposure to large corporates, and teaching experience in Mainland China gave me the chance to exchange ideas between East and West with working professionals. !
But now as Head of FinTech at InvestHK, I can finally see things come full circle. I am able to relate to the needs of those that I’m helping, apply knowledge from my past experiences and tap on the support network that I’ve built. So I couldn’t have found a better role.
Kr: Can you give us some context on how FinTech has evolved, not just in Hong Kong, but worldwide?
KL: FinTech has really evolved in different phases. Financial Technology has been around for decades but truly came to light after the 2008 recession. A lot of smart and resourceful people realized that the financial sector needs to be reformed, and there was so much potential in using technology to drive finance. I would consider that big mindset change as Phase One.
Phase Two would be from 2011 onwards, until recently. There used to be a lot of uncertainty around FinTech but over the years, FinTech companies grew in size as well as valuation. Many were successfully making the headlines. I think Phase Two is defined by the realization that this is for real, with more people believing in FinTech.
As for 2020 and beyond, I’d call it Phase Three. We have observed a clear acceleration in the pace of things because FinTech is widely promoted by different advocates and adopted by many more. The COVID situation and worldwide lockdowns basically made digitization a necessity. While previously it might have taken three or five years for the world to adopt digital payments, now most of us are part of the e-commerce movement and engage in online payments smoothly. Apart from consumers, the efforts by various governments in regulating and supporting FinTech also help the ecosystem to progress.
Moving forward, we hope that FinTech is widely and inclusively used. We really have to think about the consumers while implementing FinTech and ensure that no particular group is left behind. Thus ‘Humanizing FinTech’ is the right theme for us.
Kr: What are some initiatives in Hong Kong that help in humanizing FinTech?
KL: In humanizing FinTech, we want to ensure that financial services are open and available to everyone rather than a select group. Here’s an example. In the past, wealth management services were exclusive to the ultra-high net worth. But today, somebody with just HKD10,000 can enjoy the same kind of tailor-made investment recommendations through a robo advisory app.
Now one obstacle to providing such personalised services would be the lack of data. Let’s just look into bank loans. If a person or SME does not have any credit history, it would be difficult for the mainstream bank to offer the individual or organisation a loan, since the estimation of risk is simply impossible. On the other hand, if we have a data bank and sufficient information gathered from various sources, financial institutions like banks and funds and insurance companies, could better assess the risks involved and provide financial services.
On this note, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has been a terrific leader within Hong Kong’s FinTech space. As both the regulator and the de-facto central bank, they have implemented cloud-sharing to promote the availability of data for specified purposes. The Commercial Data Interchange (CDI) also carries big data benefits and uses a highly secure software that allows different organisations to tap into different data banks. Overall, we are able to serve the previously under-served customers.
Another key point would be the issuance of virtual banking licenses by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. This happened a few years ago and virtual banks are already going live. This will definitely usher in a new era, since virtual banks have certain advantages in technologies or special processes that cater to the under-served customers, previously falling through the gaps.
Of course, there are also government subsidies that incentivize corporates to adopt new FinTech solutions that could make their services better. The Financial Services and Treasury Bureau have also come in with a policy review, to be launched in 2021. Ultimately, FinTech requires support from all stakeholders – consumers and regulators alike – to move in the right direction.