Fintech's great, but traditional banking still goes down well in HK

Updated: 2017-03-31 07:12

(HK Edition)

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Financial technology (fintech) proponents, who have been dumping on Hong Kong for its backwardness, may like to know that mobile banking has proved to be particularly successful in Africa rather than in any of the neighboring economies that are supposed to have left Hong Kong in the dust.

The reason of the wide use of mobile, or internet, banking in Africa is that many consumers cannot gain access to traditional banking facilities, according to a BBC report. It's mobile or nothing.

That's definitely not the case in Hong Kong. The city is saturated with bank branches and automatic teller machines that can be found in almost every neighborhood. And, this is not a recent phenomenon. There's an old Cantonese saying which can be translated to mean there are more bank branches than rice shops. (In the bad old days, there used to be a rice shop in almost every city block to cater to poor families which didn't have money to stock up.)

As one prominent banker put it, nobody enjoys going to a bank. But, the usually efficient and courteous services at most local banks has made the chore seemingly bearable. Preferred customers can expect to be treated to tea or coffee by smartly-dressed bank staff.

The usual crowds at bank branches in Hong Kong's business districts and residential neighborhoods show that many people still prefer to do their banking the traditional way. As such, the demand for mobile banking and other fintech services is not strong enough to motivate banks to invest big in technology.

Despite the proliferation of online payment services, many people still choose to pay their monthly utility bills with cash at convenience stores close to where the live or work. Indeed, Hong Kong is still very much a cash society. Many shops and restaurants outside the busy commercial areas only take cash, while some charge customers a fee for paying with credit cards.

Critics are right in pointing out that Hong Kong is falling behind many neighboring economies, notably Singapore and South Korea, in fintech investment. To catch up, banks will have to work harder to convince consumers that going mobile can save them time and money.

 Fintech's great, but traditional banking still goes down well in HK

To catch up with neighboring economies, Hong Kong should spare no effort in promoting fintech investment, but banks will have to do more to convince customers to go mobile. Provided To China Daily

(HK Edition 03/31/2017 page9)