The 12th Asia Financial Forum concluded yesterday in Hong Kong with a focus on fintech and sustainable investing.
Speakers at the breakfast panel set the tone for the day in an upbeat discussion of the place of Hong Kong in a world reshaped by economic and geopolitical changes. The coming years will see Asia lead global growth in both production and consumption, according to Fung Group’s Victor K Fung, who anticipates more goods flowing into Asia to meet the demand of a fast-growing middle class. And more people across the region will benefit from greater access to financial services through fintech developments, said Standard Chartered’s Benjamin Hung.
Cathay Pacific’s John Slosar argued that all of this will be good news for Hong Kong in its role as a logistics and finance hub. Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau expressed confidence in Hong Kong’s adaptability and collaborative relationships. He said the best way to counter uncertainty is for nations to work together to create certainty.
This sentiment was echoed by leaders of the Fintech Associations of Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, who came together to explore the potential for better coordination among the various Asian fintech hubs. Sharing knowledge and talent would benefit everyone, they agreed, with Malaysia also calling for closer cooperation on funding, branding, digital implementation and regulatory harmonization. Japan wants more cross-border projects to improve the regional fintech ecosystem.
Fintech was a hot topic throughout AFF Day Two:
- Reaching those not served by traditional bans, Tencent-controlled WeBank, the first fully digital bank in China, allows anyone with a smartphone to access micro-loans. It has over 6 million clients, mostly SME business entrepreneurs who borrow an average of 1,000 yuan (about US$150) per transaction.
- PwC Hong Kong’s Matthew Phillips expects China to take the leading position in the development of blockchain within three years, as the financial services sector spearheads the new technology’s adoption. A 2018 PwC global survey of 600 executives found that 84% of organizations had blockchain projects.
- Block.one, publisher of the EOSIO blockchain software protocol and seller of the EOS Token, is a top-five cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of US$4.5 billion. It is faster and more eco-friendly than other blockchain technologies. Indeed, Block.one is the world’s first blockchain with carbon neutral servers.
The rise of impact investing was also highlighted at this year’s AFF. Naina Subberwal Batra, who heads up Asian Venture Philanthropy Network as CEO, pointed out that the shift to impact investing is already underway as more millennials and women become wealth holders, since they care about the issue. In the long-term, impact investing and green investments also make financial sense, she said.
RS Group’s MD Ronie Mak agreed. Investors are already asking for impact investments and Hong Kong will have to step up to make sure that suitable products are available here or risk investors seeking such investments overseas.
Indeed, companies will need to be more transparent and better at communicating how they contribute to society beyond just financial returns, according to CLP Holdings CFO Geert Peeters. And investment managers will need to provide more data to educate investors that sustainable investing can be as profitable as investing that focuses only on returns and ignores social outcomes, said Amy Lo, Co-head of UBS Wealth Management. Breaking through this limiting mindset is key.
AFF 2019 in Hong Kong was a resounding success, with business leaders, fintech and banking professionals, policymakers and investors examining the global economic environment and expressing cautious optimism, despite the challenges and uncertainty of the year ahead.