The wait will soon be over for Hongkongers wishing to perform real-time fund transfers around the clock, after the government confirmed on Wednesday that a faster payment system linking major banks and electronic payment platforms would kick off in September.
A pilot scheme is also in the works to allow people to pay government bills using their electronic wallets, which have been fast developing in the city over the past year.
A top financial official once again denied that Hong Kong was falling behind regional counterparts in embracing e-payments, but lawmakers said the latest measures could be too little, too late.
Hongkongers are no strangers to electronic payments – they now account for 60 per cent of total private consumption expenditure in the city.
The driving force is the Octopus stored-value card, which has enjoyed great success since its launch in 1997.
Originally intended as a means of unifying public transport payments, the touch-and-go system has since expanded to provide an arguably one-stop solution for all small transactions such as grocery shopping and buying fast food.
But Octopus’ dominance has also led some to believe the city was too content to encourage new means of payment, a hypothesis backed by commerce chief Edward Yau Tang-wah.
Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau was more reserved when asked at the Legislative Council on Wednesday how the government planned to help businesses keep up with the times.
Hong Kong e-payment operator Octopus launches QR code service, aiming to get city’s 40,000 taxi drivers off cash
Lawmaker Chan Chun-ying, who represents the finance sector, had asked Lau whether the government would make a QR code option mandatory on public transport as well as at supermarkets and convenience stores.
“We would like to point out that Hong Kong has a well-developed and mature electronic payment ecosystem. Various electronic payment means, including conventional and contactless credit cards, Octopus and EPS, have long been available,” Lau replied.
He added that the Monetary Authority would help the relevant businesses adopt QR code, but stressed such development was still at an early stage.
But Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the retail sector, said the Monetary Authority had never approached him.
“You said you would liaise with the industry … Can you tell me how you would do that?” Shiu asked.
Lau replied that the government would try to come up with a QR code standard that would benefit both Hongkongers and visitors.
He also reiterated that a faster payment system was on schedule for launch in September allowing the real-time clearing of funds between banks and electronic wallet operators.
Another scheme in the works is an option to pay government bills such as water and sewage charges using e-wallets.
But IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok was focused on another issue. He wondered whether the government had contributed to the dominance of Octopus, citing a HK$2.3 billion public transport subsidy scheme for which Octopus was the designated agent.
Lau did not give a direct answer, only saying the choice made sense due to the popularity and penetration rate of Octopus.