Julia Leung: Positioning Hong Kong as a Crypto Hub

A former journalist, Leung is the world’s most powerful female financial regulator in an increasingly important center for crypto.

AccessTimeIconDec 4, 2023 at 1:23 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 26, 2024 at 3:40 p.m. UTC
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Julia Leung is the first female CEO of Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission (SFC). Leung took office in January 2023, and her term coincides with Hong Kong's fresh attempts to establish itself as a major digital assets hub.

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Leung, a former journalist at The Asian Wall Street Journal, may seem to have an unusual background for a regulator. But, in addition to being a former journalist, she has more than 25 years in public service and extensive experience in financial regulation, market development and international cooperation. She served at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority for 14 years, spending the last eight years as the executive director responsible for financial cooperation with Mainland China and international regulators.

Leung and her colleagues have made a concerted push to put Hong Kong on the map of crypto hotspots. "Cryptocurrency platforms are part of the whole Web3 ecosystem and we are very supportive of the development of the whole Internet ecosystem," she said at the 2023 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.

At the beginning of the year, the SFC paved the way for licensed retail trading for a select group of cryptocurrencies, but with various restrictions. For example, Leung said at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, only "highly liquid" assets will be on the list.

In February, the Hong Kong securities watchdog published proposed rules for virtual asset trading platforms and collected public comments. In June, right after Beijing released its Web3 white paper, Hong Kong's new licensing regime for virtual assets service providers took effect and the SFC began accepting license applications for crypto exchanges.

Several months later, the SFC decided to disclose all crypto license applicants after an unlicensed crypto platform JPEX scandal. By December, three firms, including OSL Digital Securities, HashKey Exchange and Investment Firm Victory Securities, had been awarded retail trading licenses.

In November, Hong Kong reversed its stance on spot-crypto ETF investing, allowing intermediaries to offer services to a wider range of clients in November. The city also recently allowed some tokenized securities issuance and trading (referring to where tokens represent underlying investment assets).

Under Leung's leadership, the SFC issued Swiss crypto bank SEBA a license to conduct regulated activities in Hong Kong to deal in and distribute virtual assets-related products. Starting in November, UBS Group's wealthy clients could trade three crypto ETFs authorized by the SFC in Hong Kong.

Leung has a key role in orchestrating crypto activity in an important financial center. We're likely to hear a lot more from her regarding crypto in 2024.

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