Press Releases in Hong Kong

HK to restrict crypto exchanges to professional investors

This Dec 17, 2020, photo shows a man holding a physical imitation of a Bitcoin at a cryptocurrency "Bitcoin Change" shop, near the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul. (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

Cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Hong Kong will have to be licenced by the city's markets regulator and will only be allowed to provide services to professional investors, according to government proposals published on Friday.

Governments and financial regulators around the world are still assessing whether and how they should regulate the cryptocurrency industry. Investor protection and preventing money laundering are particular concerns.

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether have been on a roller-coaster ride this week which has raised further questions about their potential as mainstream investments. 

According to Hong Kong law, an individual must have a portfolio of HK$8 million (US$1.03 million) to count as a professional investor

Dozens of cryptocurrency exchanges operate in Hong Kong, including some of the world's largest. The city currently has an "opt in" approach under which exchanges can apply to be licensed by markets watchdog the Securities and Futures Commission, but do not have to.

Hong Kong's Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) has been consulting the market on changes to those rules since last year.

READ MORE: Hong Kong reveals crypto rules in push to tame wild market

The FSTB said on Friday in its consultation conclusions all virtual asset (crypto currency) exchanges should be licensed if they wished to operate in Hong Kong.

Local financial technology and crypto industry associations have opposed regulation stopping exchanges from offering services to retail investors, warning this could drive exchanges out of Hong Kong and push investors onto unregulated venues

It also said "confining the services of a VA exchange to professional investors…. is appropriate at least for the initial stage of the licensing regime."

Local financial technology and crypto industry associations have opposed regulation stopping exchanges from offering services to retail investors, warning this could drive exchanges out of Hong Kong and push investors onto unregulated venues.

ALSO READ: HK regulator sets out rules for crypto exchanges to get licences

According to Hong Kong law, an individual must have a portfolio of HK$8 million (US$1.03 million) to count as a professional investor.

Regulators and governments in Asia have different attitudes to regulating cryptocurrencies and the exchanges on which they are traded.

Under Singapore's regime, crypto exchanges must be licenced, but can have retail investors as clients. 

The FSTB said it intends to propose legislative changes to turn its proposals into law in the upcoming 2021-22 session of the city's legislative assembly.