Opening bank accounts in Hong Kong may become even more difficult with stricter regulations in the pipeline to tackle financial crime, HSBC Asia-Pacific vice chairman and CEO Peter Wong Tung-shun has warned.
Despite mounting calls for easier access by investors trying to open company accounts in the city, Wong suggested things may get even tougher in an interview published in the latest issue of Bulletin, a monthly magazine published by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.
“I think one of the things Hong Kong needs to understand is that the world has changed significantly from a few years ago,” Wong told the magazine. “All the new standards coming out from the US, UK and so forth have to be met.”
Wong also revealed that HSBC had hired 7,000 compliance officers globally to handle the tighter vetting process.
“The standards are basically against money laundering, financial crime, etc., and the whole world has to abide by these requirements,” Wong added.
To open bank accounts, Wong explained, clients will have to make greater disclosures about their businesses with supporting documents in order to meet the new standards. That includes the source of funds, the company’s business nature and possible money transactions.
“We are still opening many accounts every month when people are able to produce the required information,” Wong said, adding that HSBC welcomed any rejected client to return and renegotiate.
An appeal channel has been set up to deal with complaints, but the banking chief said the public should not take this to mean the requirements for opening an account would be relaxed.
“But make no mistake, this is a new world out there ... There will be more regulations coming out so it’s not going to get easier,” he warned.
A survey conducted by the chamber in May showed start-ups, especially foreign-owned ventures, had the lowest rate of success in opening bank accounts in the city.
A Hong Kong Monetary Authority spokesman said stricter requirements for opening bank accounts had been “a general trend observed in many jurisdictions”.
Wong also warned of the global economy being in a “very volatile state”. The effects of Brexit, coupled with the US presidential election in November and the city’s own leadership election next year, would impact the city’s economic outlook, he said.
But he argued that investors’ focus would definitely be on Asia, rather than Western economies. By 2030, Asia would house two-thirds of the world’s middle class and account for over 40 per cent of the world’s GDP, he added.
“So lots of things are happening, and all this volatility creates an environment of uncertainty, but also opportunity,” he noted.