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Hong Kong Ceases License Applications for Cryptocurrency Exchanges

ByDayne Lee

Mar 3, 2024
Hong Kong Ceases License Applications for Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Hong Kong Ceases License Applications for Cryptocurrency Exchanges

In a significant regulatory shift, as of February 29, Hong Kong has announced the cessation of accepting license applications from cryptocurrency exchanges. This development heralds a new era of compliance requirements, mandating that all trading platforms either secure a license or cease operations within the city’s jurisdiction. The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) of Hong Kong has laid down a strict deadline of May 31, 2024, for noncompliant exchanges to wind up their local business operations. This move underscores Hong Kong’s commitment to fostering a regulated and secure cryptocurrency trading environment, amidst growing global concerns over the digital assets’ market’s volatility and security vulnerabilities.

Regulatory Landscape Transformation

The SFC’s directive is a clear signal to the cryptocurrency industry about Hong Kong’s firm stance on regulatory compliance. The commission has encouraged investors to start looking for alternatives by migrating their assets to platforms that are either already licensed or have submitted their applications for the same. This precautionary advice aims to safeguard investors’ interests against the backdrop of an industry that has been plagued by security breaches and fraudulent activities.

To date, only two crypto trading platforms, OSL Digital Securities and HashKey Exchange, have successfully navigated the SFC’s stringent licensing process, receiving their approvals on December 15, 2020, and November 9, 2022, respectively. Additionally, 22 other platforms had thrown their hats into the ring, with four applying under a previous optional regime tailored for crypto trading platforms. However, not all journeys to compliance have been smooth, as evidenced by the withdrawal or rejection of applications from four exchanges: Huobi HK, Meex, BitHarbour, and Ammbr.

Impact on the Industry

This regulatory tightening is expected to significantly impact the local cryptocurrency landscape. The SFC plans to publicly list those platforms that must legally shut down, a move aimed at informing the public about potential risks associated with these entities. During this transitional period, exchanges will face limitations on their operations and a ban on local marketing activities, further constricting their ability to function within Hong Kong.

From June 1, 2024, a list of crypto exchanges deemed to be compliant with licensing requirements will be published. However, the SFC has made it clear that inclusion in this list does not guarantee the eventual procurement of a license. For those exchanges that successfully cross this regulatory hurdle, the opportunity to onboard retail investors for trading in Bitcoin, Ether, and potentially a variety of altcoins and stablecoins awaits, pending SFC review.

Case Study: BitForex’s Silence

The unfolding regulatory drama has already seen casualties, with the Hong Kong-based exchange BitForex going dark after halting withdrawals for an extended period. The lack of updates from the exchange’s X account since May 2023, coupled with reports from users about access issues and missing assets, highlights the precarious nature of operating within the crypto space without stringent regulatory oversight.

Summary of Licensing and Compliance Status

Exchange NameApplication StatusOutcome
OSL Digital SecuritiesApprovedLicensed
HashKey ExchangeApprovedLicensed
Huobi HKApplied then WithdrawnApplication Withdrawn
MeexApplied then WithdrawnApplication Withdrawn
BitHarbourApplied then ReturnedApplication Returned
AmmbrApplied then ReturnedApplication Returned
BitForexNot SpecifiedOperations Suspended

Reflecting on the Path Ahead

The regulatory measures introduced by Hong Kong’s SFC represent a significant step towards establishing a more secure and reliable cryptocurrency trading environment. By enforcing these stringent compliance requirements, Hong Kong aims to protect investors and ensure the stability of the digital asset market within its borders. While these regulations may pose challenges for existing and aspiring cryptocurrency exchanges, they also underscore the importance of robust security measures and transparent operations in the rapidly evolving crypto space.

As the deadline approaches, the industry will undoubtedly witness a reshaping of the local cryptocurrency exchange landscape, with only the most compliant and secure platforms surviving. This evolution, while disruptive, is a necessary stride towards mitigating the risks associated with cryptocurrency trading and ensuring the sector’s long-term sustainability.


Featured image credit: Alexey Novikov via Adobe Stock

Dayne Lee

With a foundation in financial day trading, I transitioned to my current role as an editor, where I prioritize accuracy and reader engagement in our content. I excel in collaborating with writers to ensure top-quality news coverage. This shift from finance to journalism has been both challenging and rewarding, driving my commitment to editorial excellence.