(Yicai Global) May 9 -- The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has granted virtual banking licenses to Ant SME Services (Hong Kong), Infinium, Insight Fintech HK and Ping An OneConnect, it announced today on its website.
The grants are effective today. The four newly-licensed entities plan to launch their services in about six to nine months, the HKMA said.
This is the third time the agency has issued virtual banking licenses since doling out the first batch on March 27. Eight firms had thus far been beneficiaries.
The HKMA had received applications from about 30 institutions as of Aug. 31 last year, of which it approved the eight as the first batch, it said in January.
Ant SME Services is a company indirectly registered in Hong Kong last year by Alipay (Hong Kong) Holdings, a wholly owned unit of Ant Financial Services Group under Chinese tech titan Alibaba Group Holdings. Insight Fintech HK is a unit of smartphone giant Xiaomi and Ping An OneConnect is a subsidiary of the Ping An Insurance (Group) conglomerate. Infinium has received investment from Alibaba rival Tencent Holdings and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia).
Virtual banks do not have physical outlets and provide services through internet or mobile phones. They are similar to internet banks such as Tencent-backed WeBank. They mainly focus on retail customers and small and mid-sized companies, providing universal financial services.
HKMA will closely monitor virtual banks' operations, including customers' response to their provision of financial services and whether they will exert an impact on the banking sector, HKMA said.
This issue brings the number of licensed banks in Hong Kong to 160.
Editor: Ben Armour