Hong Kong introduces new rules for offering crypto products

Hong Kong’s financial regulators have relaxed their stance on cryptocurrency products and services, broadening their reach to beyond just professional investors. The move comes at a time when the global financial scene is abuzz with the possibility of the U.S. green-lighting spot bitcoin ETFs in the coming months.

Previously, brokers in Hong Kong were limited in offering services primarily to professional investors. However, as the city seeks to position itself as a virtual asset hub, these changes signal a more accommodating stance towards digital currencies and their associated products.

However, the adjustments come with their own set of conditions. Locals looking to invest in spot products need to pass a one-time assessment to gauge their investment knowledge. Moreover, to ensure they can bear the potential risks associated with virtual asset trading, they must have sufficient net worth. Intermediaries are also obligated to provide these clients with comprehensive risk disclosure statements.

“The policy is updated in light of the latest market developments and enquiries from the industry seeking to further expand retail access through intermediaries and to allow investors to directly deposit and withdraw virtual assets to/from intermediaries with appropriate safeguards,” the Securities and Futures Commission said in a circular.

Intermediaries in Hong Kong are restricted to offering crypto services solely via SFC-licensed platforms. As of now, only two platforms – OSL and HashKey – possess this accreditation.

With these changes, Hong Kong seems to be treading a fine line, allowing more room for growth in the crypto domain while ensuring investor protection remains a priority. The city recently allowed retail investors to legally trade cryptocurrencies on licensed platforms. As such, it serves as a critical test of how regulators and authorities plan to handle the regulation and enforcement of the cryptocurrency sector.

The drive towards tightening cryptocurrency regulations was accelerated following the scandal associated with the Hong Kong-based crypto exchange JPEX, which affected over 2,000 victims.

The fallout from these events has been significant, with more than HKD 1.4 billion ($180 million) in virtual assets believed to have gone missing. This situation has been described as one of the city’s largest financial fraud cases in recent years, causing alarm among local investors.

While JPEX claims it applied for a license to operate as a regulated platform, the SFC, for its part, refuted the news ad said it has been probing the platform on suspicion of fraud since 2022. In response to critics, the regulator will publish lists of licensed virtual assets trading platforms (VATPs), those in the application process, as well as those that are no longer operational. Additionally, the regulator will maintain a list of “suspicious VATPs” on its website.