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Members of the audience listen during the panel discussion of Asian Financial Forum 2020 held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Jan 14, 2020. [Photo by PARKER ZHENG/CHINA DAILY]

Hong Kong can flex its muscles in capital access, nurturing talents and beefing up collaboration with the Chinese mainland to cement its status as a regional financial technology services hub, panelists told the Asian Financial Forum 2020 on Tuesday.

Last year, the SAR"s financial regulatory bodies issued eight virtual banking licenses and two virtual insurer licenses to spur financial innovation. The Faster Payment System, launched in 2018 to facilitate instant payments, has so far registered 4 million user accounts, handling 168,000 transactions totaling more than US$307 million a day, according to official data.

According to business advisory firm Ernst and Young, Hong Kong"s consumer fintech adoption rate reached 67 percent last year.

"The growing proliferation of smart phones has facilitated the rise of a sharing economy in Hong Kong in the past few years, and cloud technology also allows non-traditional financial services players to provide fintech services to local customers," Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau Yee-cheung said on the sidelines on the second day of the forum.

He said blockchain technology and open programming interface will be another focus for financial regulators to promote fintech applications in Hong Kong.

According to InvestHK — the government department responsible for promoting foreign direct investment — there were more than 600 fintech companies in the city last year, 76 percent of which focus on the B2B (business-to-business) market. About 44 percent of these companies have been operating for more than three years, and 53 percent of them see Hong Kong as a base for global expansion.

Hong Kong boasts a huge financial services cluster in Asia, with more than 160 licensed banks, as well as 160 authorized insurers in business.

The application of artificial intelligence has become a trend in the local banking industry to fortify its competitive position worldwide.

"Hong Kong has (a) good foundation, and the willingness to work together to grab the opportunities is warranted," said Nelson Chow, chief fintech officer at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority"s Fintech Facilitation Office.

Speaking on the sidelines of the forum at a conference to discuss AI utilization in Hong Kong"s banking industry, he hoped that greater collaboration among various players — banks, non-banks and technology companies — could be realized this year to enable more resources to be pooled to work on proven fintech concepts.

The HKMA reckoned that Hong Kong has a talents foundation and is not short of capital access when the demand for Hong Kong"s fintech services on the mainland is huge.

With a population of 71 million and a combined gross domestic product of US$1.6 trillion, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is promising for Hong Kong"s financial services sector.

According to InvestHK, 51 percent of the fintech companies operating in the city last year plan to expand in the Bay Area.

"Hong Kong has accessibility to talents and has a competitive financial regulatory regime, but the willingness of the local business sector for data-sharing is important," said Ryan Fung, chief executive at Ping An OneConnect Bank — the local virtual banking arm of mainland insurance giant Ping An Insurance Group.

Toby Chen, deputy general manager of Chinese internet titan Tencent who initiated WeBank"s AI Group, said Hong Kong should leverage the Bay Area"s educational and industry resources to cement its role as an AI application center.

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