Crypto Giants Absent as Hong Kong Attracts 24 Companies for Licenses

by Tareq Sikder
  • Platforms must apply by February 29th or cease operations by the end of May.
  • Much of the crypto entering the city flows through OTC trades rather than exchanges.
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Twenty-Four companies have applied for licenses to operate digital asset exchanges in Hong Kong, marking a move in the city's bid to establish a regulated hub for the industry. Notable applicants include Bybit, OKX, and Crypto.com.

Hong Kong's Bid to Become a Crypto Hub

Among the list of applicants were Gate.io, HTX, and Bullish, each boasting notable trading volumes in the digital asset sphere. The application process came with a deadline of February 29th, after which platforms failing to submit must cease operations by the end of May.

Angela Ang, Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs
Angela Ang, Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs, Source: LinkedIn

Notably absent from the applicant roster were industry giants like Binance, Coinbase, and Kraken. Industry observers view the application pool as a litmus test for Hong Kong's appeal as a digital-asset center, particularly amidst intensifying competition from other jurisdictions. The city's nine-month-old virtual-asset regulatory framework prioritizes investor protection, potentially introducing compliance costs that could deter some businesses.

“The application list is the litmus test for industry sentiment,” said Angela Ang, the Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs. “It’s a good sign to see a number of well-known players in the mix. What Hong Kong really needs is a number of committed, sizable players to anchor its ecosystem.”

Ding Chen, the Head of Regulatory Affairs at Bullish, acknowledged the cost implications of operating a regulated business, drawing parallels with traditional financial services. Such considerations are factored into companies' overall strategies as they navigate Hong Kong's regulatory landscape.

Over-the-Counter Dominance: Crypto Flows Beyond Digital Exchanges

Hong Kong's pivot towards becoming a crypto hub in late 2022 reflects an effort to project a cutting-edge image amid uncertainties about the city's future. Presently, HashKey Exchange and OSL Group are the only authorized digital-asset exchanges operating in Hong Kong.

Gary Tiu, the Head of Regulatory Affairs at OSL, highlighted the evolving regulatory environment's impact on business construction and emphasized the need to assess associated costs.

Despite Hong Kong's allure as a crypto destination, data from Chainalysis indicates that a significant portion of crypto flows into the city occurs through over-the-counter (OTC) trades rather than digital-asset exchanges. Regulators have initiated crackdowns on small shops facilitating cash-to-digital asset exchanges, signaling efforts to streamline oversight.

Hong Kong is actively exploring regulations for stablecoins and considering the possibility of allowing exchange-traded funds investing directly in select cryptocurrencies. In a recent development, the government sold $750 million of digital green bonds using HSBC Holdings' tokenization platform, further underscoring the city's foray into digital finance.

Twenty-Four companies have applied for licenses to operate digital asset exchanges in Hong Kong, marking a move in the city's bid to establish a regulated hub for the industry. Notable applicants include Bybit, OKX, and Crypto.com.

Hong Kong's Bid to Become a Crypto Hub

Among the list of applicants were Gate.io, HTX, and Bullish, each boasting notable trading volumes in the digital asset sphere. The application process came with a deadline of February 29th, after which platforms failing to submit must cease operations by the end of May.

Angela Ang, Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs
Angela Ang, Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs, Source: LinkedIn

Notably absent from the applicant roster were industry giants like Binance, Coinbase, and Kraken. Industry observers view the application pool as a litmus test for Hong Kong's appeal as a digital-asset center, particularly amidst intensifying competition from other jurisdictions. The city's nine-month-old virtual-asset regulatory framework prioritizes investor protection, potentially introducing compliance costs that could deter some businesses.

“The application list is the litmus test for industry sentiment,” said Angela Ang, the Senior Policy Adviser at Blockchain Intelligence Firm TRM Labs. “It’s a good sign to see a number of well-known players in the mix. What Hong Kong really needs is a number of committed, sizable players to anchor its ecosystem.”

Ding Chen, the Head of Regulatory Affairs at Bullish, acknowledged the cost implications of operating a regulated business, drawing parallels with traditional financial services. Such considerations are factored into companies' overall strategies as they navigate Hong Kong's regulatory landscape.

Over-the-Counter Dominance: Crypto Flows Beyond Digital Exchanges

Hong Kong's pivot towards becoming a crypto hub in late 2022 reflects an effort to project a cutting-edge image amid uncertainties about the city's future. Presently, HashKey Exchange and OSL Group are the only authorized digital-asset exchanges operating in Hong Kong.

Gary Tiu, the Head of Regulatory Affairs at OSL, highlighted the evolving regulatory environment's impact on business construction and emphasized the need to assess associated costs.

Despite Hong Kong's allure as a crypto destination, data from Chainalysis indicates that a significant portion of crypto flows into the city occurs through over-the-counter (OTC) trades rather than digital-asset exchanges. Regulators have initiated crackdowns on small shops facilitating cash-to-digital asset exchanges, signaling efforts to streamline oversight.

Hong Kong is actively exploring regulations for stablecoins and considering the possibility of allowing exchange-traded funds investing directly in select cryptocurrencies. In a recent development, the government sold $750 million of digital green bonds using HSBC Holdings' tokenization platform, further underscoring the city's foray into digital finance.

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