I recently come across an article written by an entrepreneur who commented on the latest account opening situation in Hong Kong and offered some very useful tips in opening a business bank account. You may find the article below.
Hong Kong: Banks open for startups again & how to open a business account?
By Shaun Cunningham, a e-Commerce Venture Builder
Since writing Hong Kong: The worst place in the world for a startup to open a bank account?, I've been overwhelmed by the response. The article received over 30,000 views, was liked more than a thousand times, received nearly 200 comments, many of them sharing similar experiences, and was reprinted in the Hong Kong Free Press. It would seem that I had hit a nerve.
Eight months later and the situation has changed considerably. To their credit, The Hong Kong Monetary Authority immediately got in touch and I have since met and worked closely with them, as well as several major banks in Hong Kong, to try and help improve the situation.
Reports across the board confirm that opening a bank account for a startup in Hong Kong is now considerably less difficult, though there is still a good deal of documentation required for compliance.
What you need to know if you're planning to open a business bank account in Hong Kong
Having spoken with the commercial directors at several major banks in Hong Kong, I wanted to share some tips and facts to help you open a business bank account:
- There are three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong that have a particular responsibility to the region, which includes helping early-stage companies. They are HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China (Hong Kong). These three banks are very much aware of the situation and have been working hard to reduce their rejection rate for start-ups.
- One bank in particular (of the three mentioned above) has reduced their overall business banking application rejection rate from 13% to less than 1%, and any rejection now requires personal sign off by the Head of Business Banking.
- Honesty is the key to success in your application. Partly because of the high rejection rates, startups have been exaggerating in their applications, which has meant that during the due diligence phase, banks are discovering anomalies and so are making rejections. For example, if you claim to run a high-level consultancy business with average project fees of $20,000, but are receiving multiple payments of $20, this will raise red flags.
- Dealings with countries like North Korea and certain others in the Middle East will also raise compliance issues.
- Your profitability does not factor into whether you are accepted or rejected.
- There will be questions about why you have chosen Hong Kong to open a business bank account but an HKID is not a necessity.
- All company directors are not required to physically be at the account opening application meeting. Many Hong Kong startups were circumnavigating this perceived requirement by incorporating the company under one director in Hong Kong, opening the bank account and then appointing their foreign directors once the account was opened.
- A permanent office in Hong Kong is not required. You will require an office address to register your company during the business incorporation process (a virtual office address will suffice), but banks understand that many startups now operate from coworking spaces, so it's not required to open a bank account.
- There is now a dedicated task force under the Hong Kong Monetary Authority that has been established to solve this issue. They have since setup this page on account opening on their website and have setup a special appeal line. Startups that get rejected should email email@example.com
- During the account application, it helps to be six months in with your business operations (yes, I agree this is still not ideal). You should bring evidence of your business operations and if you aren't yet operational, a business plan consisting of just a couple of pages will suffice (no need for a 100 pager!).
- Standard Chartered Bank has reduced their standard account opening time to just 7 - 14 days.
- HSBC is now the first bank in Hong Kong to integrate their business accounts with popular startup accounting software Xero.
Hong Kong is back in the game
On behalf of my dear readers, I decided to put myself one last time through the account opening process with one of the note-issuing banks named above, to see if it really had improved. I'm pleased to say that it definitely has and that Hong Kong is once again, open for business.
Shaun Cunningham is a e-Commerce Venture Builder. His original article can be found on LinkedIn: Hong Kong: Banks Open for Startups Again & How to Open a Business Account.
If you have any account opening tips to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.