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Hong Kong's ZA Bank Expands into Crypto, Fiat Currency Transfers

Founded by Chinese billionaire Ou Yaping among others, ZA Bank will offer token-to-fiat currency conversions over licensed exchanges.

Photo by Ryan Mac / Unsplash

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ZA Bank, Hong Kong's largest virtual bank, is expanding its services to include transfers of cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies, as well as providing account services for the growing digital asset sector in the city.

ZA Bank will act as a settlement bank for clients, allowing them to withdraw funds in Hong Kong, China, and US currencies after depositing crypto tokens with exchanges, according to Ronald Iu, the bank's CEO, in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday.

This business model is already in operation with HashKey and OSL, the only two currently licensed crypto exchanges in Hong Kong, and ZA Bank plans to provide the same service for other exchanges as they become licensed.

Iu stated that many firms, both local and from abroad, are interested in having a path to make crypto-related transactions work, and ZA Bank aims to provide that solution. This move comes as Hong Kong seeks to revive its status as a financial center after facing years of Covid-19 restrictions and political upheaval.

More access for industry players

Access to banking has been a major hurdle for the cryptocurrency industry in Hong Kong, with traditional banks often reluctant to provide services due to strict know-your-customer and anti-money laundering rules. The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has further eroded banking access for many crypto firms.

Read more: Silicon Valley Bank's Collapse Underscores Risks From Rising Cost of Money

ZA Bank is also offering online account opening for local Web3 startups and small-medium enterprises, following a trial in a regulatory sandbox that onboarded around 100 firms.

ZA Bank currently only plans to engage with licensed exchanges and conducts anti-money laundering (AML) scrutiny against the usual checklists to comply with regulatory requirements. Sin stated that no AML issues have emerged over the recent months of work.

However, ZA Bank does not offer services for clients from mainland China due to the restrictions in place there, Iu told the publication.

ZA Bank is one of Hong Kong's eight licensed virtual banks and had the highest net assets as of last year, though it remains unprofitable. Iu stated that it is too early to determine the revenue model for the bank, but believes that more clients, deposits, and business opportunities will be beneficial for the bank. He also said that ZA Bank does not expect to significantly increase its headcount to handle the influx of crypto clients.

Recent appointments

Iu joined ZA Bank as CEO and executive director in February 2023, following a stint as chief strategy oficer for ZA International, the parent company of ZA Bank. Iu has over two decades of experience in banking and finance.

Prior to joining the ZA family, Iu was chief executive of Airstar Bank and has served in the senior management of various global and local financial institutions, including GE Capital (HK), China CITIC Bank International, Standard Chartered, and PrimeCredit.

He succeeds Rockson Hsu who stepped down as CEO and executive director of ZA Bank to pursue new opportunities.

More recently, ZA Bank appointed Sonford Yuen as its new chief risk officer with effect from 28 March 2023.

Yuen brings over 20 years of experience in banking and financial institutions. Prior to joining ZA Bank, Sonford was the chief risk officer of Ping An OneConnect Bank Hong Kong, where he led and managed the risk management department and directly oversaw all aspects of risk functions. He also served as senior management in various financial institutions including Finaxar Group, DBS Bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and HSBC.

Hong Kong is planning to roll out a revamped virtual asset exchanges framework as of June 1, which will allow exchange operators to open up to retail investors.

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