Hong Kong Needs More Than Lip Service to Grow Blockchain, Says Local Founder

Hong Kong Needs More Than Lip Service to Grow Blockchain, Says Local Founder

by April 22, 2019

After his blockchain panel at the Internet Economy Summit last week, we had a chance to sit down with trustMe, a local player in the blockchain scene with a focus on bringing the technology to SMEs in Hong Kong.

Steven Lee, founder and CEO of trustMe, still had a lot to say about blockchain after presenting a whole panel on it. For one thing, Steven doesn’t think that fintech is going on a very fast track in Hong Kong yet, but it is getting more and more popular among the population.

Blockchain is Still a Dirty Word

trustme blockchain hong kong steven

Image Credit: trustMe

Steven always focuses his message on how the technology could impact his clients, and not even tell them it’s blockchain.

“If you tell SMEs it’s blockchain, they’ll have the same impression; that it’s something for big corporations, something that I need to invest huge amounts of money into it.”

“In fact, it’s not true. Blockchain isn’t even something high tech already it’s just programming that enables us to do business. In order to deliver the message currently we don’t tell them, we just tell them that we have solutions to solve your pain point.”

He also has to be careful of blockchain’s links to cryptocurrency, the very same thing that popularised blockchain in the first place.

“I’d rather receive Hong Kong Dollars or US Dollars, I don’t want Bitcoin,” Steven joked. “That’s why right now it’s good that more and more people understand that crypto is just based on blockchain technology.”

But it’s also why Steven always pre-empts the issue with potential sales by clarifying that they “are not in the cryptocurrency realm”, before they even reveal that trustMe builds applications on top of blockchain.

Hong Kong’s Fear of Blockchain

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Currently, the company has to go through all these layers of disclaimers because Hong Kong just isn’t truly educated about blockchain yet, and Steven thinks it’s due to certain ecosystem factors.

“The regulators or big corporations, they should take the lead,” said Steven, echoing fellow panelist Paul Sin of Deloitte Asia Pacific.

Steven brings up their blockchain that is geared towards small and medium enterprise real estate agents, where they use smart contracts to facilitate the typical real estate humdrum.

“We make some noise and we get some pioneers to adopt it. But when one of the biggest real estate companies Centralink announced that they will also use blockchain technology, then this gives us a turbo,” said Steven.

“Because when we address this issue with the real estate agents [now], then they understand that now even the biggest ones are using it. If [they] don’t change, [they’ll] be out of the business soon.”

“So I’m telling you, if the top authorities in a big corporation announces that they started to use it, I think the last of the SMEs will follow, and create a more innovation driven culture that the SMEs will adopt.”

Well then, we thought. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority worked with Deloitte to adopt blockchain for trade so surely that’s as big of an advocacy as you can get right?

Well, Steven thinks it’s not enough.

More than Lip Service is Needed

trustme blockchain regulators smart city government hkma government

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“They should really promote it,” said Steven about the Hong Kong government. “Not just using [their] mouth and say they support, but how about some regulations? In Mainland China they already have some policies that tackle blockchain but in Hong Kong they still don’t have [any].”

Apparently trustMe’s own attempts to advocate for regulations with the regulators did not bear fruit.

Steven thinks that smart contracts based on blockchain is one of the avenues to turn Hong Kong into the smart city of the government’s dreams, but he opines that the tone set for blockchain technology in their messages imbues fear into the average joe.

“Sometimes authorities try to put out some message [that inadvertently] discourage the SMEs from adopting new technologies. Although they are not wrong; in the messages they will say [about working with blockchain companies] when you’re choosing some technology or digital contract you have to make sure that they are according to the law.”

This is when trustMe’s real estate agent SME clients turn to them and wonder if they are the ones warned about.

“This kind of atmosphere is very important. Those SMEs will not look into details, they will just think that [the authorities] are trying to discourage us from use it so we better not.”

Just the word blockchain is already a hard sell in Hong Kong, a regulator that spells out doom and gloom makes it that much harder for blockchain to truly thrive.

The solution, Steven thinks, is more dialogue with the powers that be.

Beyond giving lip service, regulators that are willing to work with digital contract providers, even if it isn’t trustMe, would allow for a law that can be amended to fit the smart city narrative.

“More two-way conversations rather than just saying that they won’t change the law,” lamented Steven.

Featured image via trustMe