OTC crypto shops flood Hong Kong, but regulations may impact their presence

Hong Kong, one of the important and main monetary facilities on this planet, has performed a big position within the growth of cryptocurrencies. For occasion, the Chinese territory has birthed among the most established and profitable crypto corporations to date together with the crypto derivatives trade FTX, together with the digital asset platform Crypto.com. 

Yet, as trillions of {dollars} are traded often by means of crypto exchanges based in Hong Kong, the “Vertical City” additionally accommodates an abundance of bodily over-the-counter crypto shops as nicely. Henri Arslanian, PwC crypto lead and former chairman of the Fintech Association of Hong Kong, advised Cointelegraph that the variety of conventional OTC crypto brokers in Hong Kong actually stands out. “These are literally brick and mortar stores for the retail public,” he stated.

An nameless supply additional advised Cointelegraph that whereas touring round Hong Kong, he couldn’t assist but discover an enormous rise in OTC crypto exchanges, a few of which even present entry to cryptocurrency ATMs.

Photo of an OTC retail trade in Hong Kong captured by an nameless onlooker

OTC retail shops make up Hong Kong’s crypto tradition

Compared with areas just like the United States or Europe the place shopping for and promoting cryptocurrency on regulated exchanges is pretty straightforward, Hong Kong’s bodily crypto storefronts are a singular trademark that gives people with one other approach to entry crypto.

Kelvin Yeung, CEO and founding father of Hong Kong Digital Asset Exchange, or HKD, make clear the matter. Yeung advised Cointelegraph that the HKD crypto trade was based in 2019, the bodily store was established in January this 12 months and that they make use of over 30 workers members to present customer support.

Image Source: HKD

Yeung additional remarked that HKD’s store acts equally to a conventional financial institution, giving clients the chance to achieve a hands-on method to shopping for crypto, together with entry to in-person consulting companies. As such, he believes that retail shops will almost definitely be a world pattern transferring ahead as crypto turns into mainstream:

“As more investors and institutional investors get into the industry and digital currency becomes mainstream, there will be a tendency to open physical stores in combination with online platforms.”

Yeung added that he believes larger buyer belief is constructed between HKD and its person base due to its bodily presence. “Our users are primarily between the ages of 40 and 70. An older customer base is important for creating mainstream adoption since many of these people still hold fiat currency and only trust traditional financial systems,” he remarked.

Interestingly, it’s not simply the older technology buying crypto at these bodily areas. Priscilla Ng, founding father of Coiner HK — one other Hong Kong OTC retail trade — advised Cointelegraph that CoinerHK was launched at the start of 2020 to concentrate on the feminine market: “We needed to create a marketplace for ladies as a result of we wish to promote the concept ladies may very well be financially unbiased and apply self funding.”

As such, Ng shared that CoinerHK’s customers are mainly women typically between 20 and 50 years of age and about 70% of them are trading in cash for crypto. Ng also noted that CoinerHK has two physical store locations in the golden area of Hong Kong.

Image Source: CoinerHK

Echoing Yeung, Ng added that having physical OTC exchanges can provide customers with greater opportunities: “We treat them as friends when trading and also give our customers faith in us since we own physical locations.” Ng further remarked that CoinerHK’s Wanchai location also serves as an art gallery that features nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

Regulations could push out physical OTC exchanges

While physical OTC crypto exchanges like HKD and CoinerHK appear to be providing greater access to crypto throughout Hong Kong, a number of regulatory risks are associated with these kinds of establishments.

For instance, Arslanian explained that in addition to regular customers, mainland Chinese tourists have been target clients for these establishments. He noted that many of these shops are located in touristic areas to attract users, but are particularly appealing to Chinese tourists due to the crypto ban in China: “One could assume that if mainland Chinese tourists visit Hong Kong, nothing will stop them from buying crypto at these OTC shops.”

With this in mind, Arslanian believes that there could be an increase in retail OTC centers in Hong Kong due to the influx of Chinese tourists interested in buying crypto. On the other hand, Arslanian mentioned that Hong Kong’s upcoming regulatory framework for crypto exchanges could cause these shops to shut down entirely.

As Cointelegraph previously reported, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau of Hong Kong have been considering restricting crypto access to portfolios with at least $1 million in assets. If passed, the new guidelines would restrict crypto access to roughly 93% of the city’s population.

Although this is a major challenge for physical OTC shops, Arslanian remarked that OTC stores may simply move their operations underground. However, he noted that this would then pose an increased risk to customers: “In case something goes wrong, the public is less likely to report them to the authorities.”

In regard to uncertain regulations, Yeung commented that the major challenge currently facing HKD is understanding if Hong Kong will soon only allow institutional investors to invest in crypto: “This will have a large influence on our business.” Arslanian added that regulated crypto exchanges not being able to service retail customers is something the crypto community greatly opposes since this could very well result in users turning to unregulated platforms.

Unfortunately, Arslanian further pointed out that it would be extremely challenging for physical OTC shops to receive the correct licenses, even if they attempt to be fully regulated. As of now, Yeung mentioned that HKD only requires a valid ID and address verification to buy and sell crypto on the exchange.

It’s interesting to see that currently, the only regulated crypto exchange in Hong Kong is OSL, which is also a unit of the Fidelity-backed BC group. OSL managing director and head of exchange Andrew Walton explained to Cointelegraph that OSL was purposefully built with regulations in mind, and even practiced self-regulation before some of the current laws were enacted.

In addition, Walton shared that OSL was grandfathered in under Singapore’s Payment Services Act, or PSA, and has additionally applied for a digital payment token, or DPT, license through the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Impressive regulatory approvals recently allowed OSL to expand its business to Latin America. “In Latin America, the OSL Exchange product will be initially available to institutional and professional investors in the region, in Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. OSL’s LatAm offering will also seek appropriate licensing as regulatory developments across the region take place,” Walton added.

Retail investors are needed from a business perspective

While OSL’s efforts are indeed notable, Arslanian pointed out that a lot of revenue is typically generated from retail clients buying and selling crypto on exchanges and the retail flow, in turn, attracts institutional clients. As such, he noted that Hong Kong’s willingness to force crypto exchanges to cater only to institutional investors is a hard ask from a business perspective. Although this may be, Walton remarked that OSL has seen a significant increase in interest from the institutional segment over the past year.

Given the continuing regulatory uncertainty for cryptocurrency, Arslanian mentioned that Hong Kong may very well be best suited for institutional investors, while Singapore could be more logical for retail customers.

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