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insight

Launch of the Faster Payment System

(Translation)

The Faster Payment System (FPS) is launched today.  This signifies that Hong Kong’s payment system, a core part of Hong Kong’s financial infrastructure, is moving into a new era.

An international financial centre needs to be supported by a world-class financial infrastructure, in particular the payment system.  The launch of the Hong Kong dollar Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system in December 1996 was the first important milestone in the development of Hong Kong’s payment system.  At that time, our RTGS system was Asia’s first payment system which fully complies with relevant international standards, with payment transactions settled in real time across the books of a central banking institution, i.e. the HKMA.  The average daily turnover of the Hong Kong dollar RTGS system has tripled from HK$340 billion in 1997 to almost HK$920 billion today.

In the past 20 years or so, the RTGS system has been continually enhanced and upgraded, with the US dollar and euro RTGS systems launched in 2000 and 2003 respectively.  The introduction of the renminbi RTGS system in 2007 marked another major milestone.  It has been the only renminbi RTGS system among the offshore renminbi markets globally since its launch, and is a cornerstone that supports Hong Kong’s development as a global hub for offshore renminbi business.  Currently, its average daily turnover reached RMB940 billion, even more than that of the Hong Kong dollar RTGS system.

Hong Kong is the only place in the world with RTGS systems in four currencies, namely the Hong Kong dollar, renminbi, US dollar and euro.  While we take pride in the RTGS systems, after all they are designed only for handling large-value payments and interbank transactions.  Retail and small-value payments, in particular fund transfers across different banks or person-to-person (P2P) payments, have mainly relied on cheques or electronic fund transfers, which often take more than a day to complete.

Compared with other jurisdictions, there is room for Hong Kong to further enhance the efficiency in retail payment services, including person-to-merchant (P2M) and P2P payments.  There was a significant breakthrough in 2016 when the HKMA granted the first batch of licences to 13 operators to operate stored value facilities (SVFs), commonly known as e-wallets.  Remarkable progress has been made over the past two years.  The operators have used different strategies to expand their business partnerships and user base.  Members of the public are now enjoying more choices and various promotional offers.  Notwithstanding this, Hong Kong’s retail payment landscape still contains bottlenecks in three areas, namely (i) small-value transfers across different banks, (ii) e-wallet top-up from bank accounts, and (iii) fund transfers across different e-wallets.  To maintain our financial infrastructure at world class level, we must work to remove these hindrances.

With the efforts and determination of HKMA colleagues, together with the support from the banking industry and SVF operators, the FPS has been developed successfully and is launched today.  It is a unique platform as it has the following key functions:

       (i) Round-the-clock – it is an electronic payment system that operates 24x7;
  (ii) Simple and convenient – simply requires inserting a registered mobile phone number or email address for payments and fund transfers;
  (iii) Robust and secure – all Hong Kong dollar transactions across banks are settled in real time via banks’ accounts maintained with the HKMA, with statutory backing to the finality of their settlement;
  (iv) Multiple currencies – supports Hong Kong dollar and renminbi;
  (v) Full connectivity – achieves full connectivity between banks and e-wallets as well as among different e-wallets; and
  (vi) Free of charge – zero fee for small-value fund transfers or payments between personal customers

 

The unique features of the FPS call for a more catchy and apt Chinese name — “轉數快”.  Starting from today, retails banks and most SVF operators participating in the FPS will accept registration from the public.  Upon registration, members of the public can link up their mobile phone number or email address with their chosen bank accounts or e-wallets to accept payments through the FPS.

After about two weeks of payee registration, the FPS will be fully activated on 30 September (Sunday), offering the public a new experience in real-time transfers and payments across bank accounts and e-wallets.  The above registration is only required for accepting payments as a payee.  No registration is needed for payers – they can simply log in to the mobile app of their bank or e-wallet and make use of the “transfer” function to process any payments or transfers.

In addition to the FPS, the HKMA also announced today the Common QR Code Standard and the launch of an associated mobile app.  Through the joint effort of the HKMA and the industry, the Hong Kong Interbank Clearing Limited (HKICL) has developed a free mobile app, which can combine multiple QR codes from different payment service providers into a single, combined QR code.  This will greatly facilitate smaller merchants by obviating the need of displaying multiple QR codes to their customers.

The FPS will be a game changer for the retail payment landscape in Hong Kong.  Apart from competition among banks and SVF operators for customers and merchants, the public will experience a gradual shift in their shopping and payment habits.  The FPS, coupled with the rapid advancement in fintech (e.g. virtual banking), will propel the banking industry in Hong Kong to move into a new era of Smart Banking.  Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank all participating banks, SVF operators, the Hong Kong Association of Banks, HKICL, and HKMA colleagues for their concerted efforts, despite the adverse weather conditions under the super Typhoon Mangkhut, in ensuring the launch of the FPS as scheduled.

 

Norman Chan
Chief Executive
Hong Kong Monetary Authority

17 September 2018

Last revision date: 19 September 2018
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