DEC 23, 2023
Hong Kong regulators signal embrace of spot crypto ETFs
Hong Kong has signaled its readiness to usher in spot crypto exchange-traded funds (ETFs), as the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) jointly announced on Friday that they are prepared to accept applications for such funds.
Updated virtual asset-related policy
The SFC, responsible for overseeing financial markets in Hong Kong, expressed its openness to applications for the authorization of funds with exposure to virtual assets, specifically mentioning virtual asset spot exchange-traded funds (VA spot ETFs).
This move expands beyond the existing crypto futures ETFs, demonstrating Hong Kong’s commitment to adapting its regulatory landscape to the evolving crypto market. It also builds on positive commentary made by SFC CEO Julia Leung on the subject last month. Leung stated that the regulator was open to the notion of retail participation in spot crypto ETFs in Hong Kong.
“We welcome proposals using innovative technology that boosts efficiency and customer experience. We’re happy to give it a try as long as new risks are addressed. Our approach is consistent regardless of the asset.”
Use of license platforms
Friday’s SFC circular emphasized that transactions conducted by these ETFs must occur through SFC-licensed crypto platforms or authorized financial institutions. The SFC outlined that both in-kind and in-cash subscription and redemption methods are permissible for SFC-authorized spot VA ETFs, providing flexibility in fund management.
Custody requirements were also addressed, with the SFC specifying that the trustee or custodian must delegate its crypto custody function exclusively to an SFC-licensed Virtual Asset Trading Platform (VATP) or entities meeting the crypto custody standards set by the HKMA.
These latest circulars from the regulators have prompted a response from the industry. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange has reacted, welcoming the announcement. It believes that such a move would serve to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as a digital asset hub in the region. The exchange already lists a number of crypto futures ETFs, with multinational investment bank UBS having recently extended access to these products to its Hong Kong-based high-net-worth clients.
While the regulatory landscape in the United States in 2023 has proven to be hostile, one very positive development appears to be ongoing work towards spot bitcoin ETF approval. Although still a matter of speculation, many industry commentators believe that approval will come through on Jan. 10. The advent of spot bitcoin and crypto ETFs in both eastern and western markets would likely make for an extremely bullish 2024 for the industry.
Hong Kong’s move towards spot crypto ETFs aligns with its proactive stance in adapting to the rapidly evolving crypto landscape. The regulatory framework, as outlined in the circulars, reflects a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring investor protection. The city’s financial authorities have taken a comprehensive approach to review and update policies, once again signaling their ongoing commitment to embracing the growing role of virtual assets in the financial world.