Hong Kong central bank against Cryptocurrency firms applying banking terms

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  • The HKMA has issued a warning to cryptocurrency businesses in Hong Kong, cautioning against the use of misleading banking terminology
  • The region’s laws permit only licensed institutions to conduct banking activities
  • This move seeks to ensure compliance with financial regulations and safeguard consumers from deceptive practices in the cryptocurrency sector, as demonstrated by recent regulatory actions by the SFC

The Hong Kong Central Bank – Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has issued a stern warning to Cryptocurrency firms operating within its jurisdiction. The essence of this warning revolves around the use of banking terminology and the portrayal of these crypto entities as banks. The central message from the HKMA is unequivocal: cryptocurrency businesses that employ certain banking-related terms and present themselves as banks may be misleading the public.

Furthermore, the regulatory landscape of Hong Kong, which is continuously evolving to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the burgeoning cryptocurrency sector, forms the foundation of this warning. At its core, the HKMA’s cautionary stance aims to ensure compliance with existing financial and banking laws and to maintain transparency within the cryptocurrency industry.

Regulatory Background

To understand the significance of the HKMA’s warning, it’s essential to consider the broader regulatory context in Hong Kong’s cryptocurrency sector. Furthermore, the region has been actively working to establish a regulatory framework for digital assets and related activities.

The introduction of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing (AML/CTF) regime in 2018 marked an important step in regulating cryptocurrency exchanges. Under this regime, virtual asset service providers (VASPs) are required to be licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and comply with AML/CTF regulations.

The SFC has also played a crucial role in overseeing digital asset trading platforms. It issued a statement in November 2019 clarifying its regulatory stance on security token offerings (STOs), highlighting the need for compliance with existing securities laws.

READ: HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank, launches cryptocurrency services

In September 2021, the SFC issued a regulatory framework for virtual asset trading platforms, providing guidelines for licensing and operational requirements. This framework aims to enhance investor protection and reduce the risks associated with digital asset trading.

Moreover, the HKMA itself has been actively engaged in discussions surrounding central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). While these efforts are distinct from the regulation of private cryptocurrencies, they demonstrate Hong Kong’s commitment to exploring the potential benefits and risks associated with digital currencies.

The HKMA’s Warning: Misleading Banking Terminology

The central message of the HKMA’s warning is clear: cryptocurrency businesses that use certain banking-related terminology and present themselves as banks may be misleading the public. Moreover, misleading representations can lead individuals to believe that these crypto firms are authorized banks operating within Hong Kong. Nonetheless, the HKMA emphasized that, according to the region’s banking laws, only licensed institutions can conduct banking or deposit-taking activities in Hong Kong.

This warning underscores the importance of transparency and accuracy in the cryptocurrency industry, where terminology and branding can significantly impact how businesses are perceived by the public. Misleading representations can potentially harm consumers and undermine the integrity of the financial system.

Implications for Cryptocurrency firms in Hong Kong

The HKMA’s warning carries significant implications for cryptocurrency businesses operating in Hong Kong:

1. Clarity in Terminology: Cryptocurrency firms must exercise caution when using terminology that insinuates banking activities. Clear and accurate descriptions of their services are crucial to avoid potential legal issues.

2. Regulatory Compliance: Businesses operating in the cryptocurrency sector should ensure compliance with existing financial and banking laws. This includes obtaining the necessary licenses and adhering to AML/CTF regulations.

3. Consumer Protection: The warning aims to protect consumers from misleading representations. Cryptocurrency firms must prioritize transparency and accuracy in their operations and communications to prevent any harm to consumers and to foster trust within the industry.

In addition to the above, it’s vital to note that Hong Kong has been taking a proactive stance against violators of its licensing laws in the cryptocurrency space. On September 15, 2023, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued a warning against a cryptocurrency exchange named JPEX. The SFC accused JPEX of promoting its products and services in Hong Kong without securing the required license or applying for one. This regulatory action demonstrates Hong Kong’s commitment to enforcing licensing regulations and maintaining regulatory control over the cryptocurrency industry.

The HKMA’s warning and the SFC’s regulatory actions, together, send a clear message: Hong Kong commits to fostering responsible conduct within the cryptocurrency sector. Furthermore, these crypto firms may lead individuals to believe they have authorized banks operating within Hong Kong. However, the HKMA emphasized that, according to the region’s banking laws, only licensed institutions can conduct banking or deposit-taking activities in Hong Kong.


In conclusion, the HKMA’s warning underscores the evolving regulatory landscape of Hong Kong’s cryptocurrency sector. It emphasizes the importance of regulatory compliance, accurate terminology, and consumer protection in a rapidly developing industry. Cryptocurrency businesses must navigate these regulatory waters with diligence and transparency to thrive in this dynamic environment.

As the global cryptocurrency industry continues to evolve and gain mainstream attention, regulators around the world are increasingly focusing on enhancing their oversight and ensuring that market participants adhere to established financial laws and regulations. This heightened scrutiny is particularly significant in regions like Hong Kong, which have a strong tradition of financial services and a desire to strike a balance between fostering innovation and maintaining regulatory control.

In light of these developments, it is essential for cryptocurrency businesses operating in Hong Kong and other jurisdictions to remain vigilant about compliance with local regulations and to avoid misleading practices that could potentially harm consumers or undermine the integrity of the financial system. Furthermore, the crypto industry must continue to engage with regulators and work collaboratively to establish clear regulatory frameworks that provide a level of certainty for both businesses and consumers while promoting innovation and responsible conduct in the space.


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Nathan Sialah
Nathan Sialah
Nathan Sialah is a seasoned journalist with a diverse background in digital journalism, radio broadcasting, and cryptocurrency trading. With over five years of experience in the field, Nathan has honed his skills in delivering accurate and engaging news content to a wide audience. In addition to his journalistic expertise, Nathan is a dedicated researcher in the Artificial Intelligence industry, keeping abreast of the latest advancements and trends. His multifaceted background allows him to bring a unique perspective to his reporting, covering a wide range of topics with depth and insight.