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MSO’s vs Traditional Banks for Businesses in Hong Kong

Updated: May 10

Selecting the right banking partner is a crucial decision for any business in Hong Kong, but especially for expats and foreign companies new to the local landscape. While major banks have traditionally dominated the market, Money Service Operators (MSOs) have emerged as viable alternatives worth considering.

This article provides an in-depth examination of the services, operations, limitations and leading players of both MSOs and traditional banks.

Hong Kong

Services Provided by MSOs

MSOs like Airwallex and Currenxie specialize in seamless payment solutions rather than providing full banking services. Their offerings are focused on core needs like multi-currency accounts, virtual cards, payment processing and optimized foreign exchange.

By streamlining these fundamental transactions, MSOs aim to facilitate cross-border business without the hassle often associated with traditional banks.

Similarly, Currenxie offers digital multi-currency business accounts and virtual card solutions tailored to foreign companies in Hong Kong. Their interface and processes are designed to simplify routine banking operations so that expats can establish their business presence smoothly.

Services Provided by Traditional Banks

In contrast to MSOs, traditional banks provide a much wider array of financial services beyond just business accounts and payments. Top banks like HSBC and Standard Chartered offer extensive solutions including business and personal loans, trade financing, foreign exchange, credit cards, insurance plans, investments, wealth management and more.

For larger corporations already established in Hong Kong, traditional banks provide specialized services and dedicated relationship managers catered to their needs. However, the extensive eligibility requirements often deter newer foreign SMEs and individuals trying to gain a foothold in the market.

Operations of MSOs

As licensed financial institutions, MSOs are not classified as banks. This allows them to fully utilize technology to provide innovative payment solutions without being hindered by the legacy processes of traditional banks.

MSOs emphasize digital experiences, with account opening, banking services, payments and foreign exchange all conducted online through user-friendly interfaces. Without physical branch networks, MSOs can focus on delivering efficient digital solutions. This distinction appeals greatly to expats and foreign companies that prefer the convenience of managing their banking remotely.

Operations of Traditional Banks

In contrast, traditional banks in Hong Kong must adhere to strict banking regulations and supervision. Their physical branch networks project stability and trustworthiness, but also result in more paperwork and procedural hurdles for customers.

Personnel in branches can provide personalized services and financial advice that some customers appreciate. However, this often comes with lengthy wait times and inconsistent experiences. Traditional banks are working to digitize more of their services but still lag behind the convenience and speed of MSOs specialized in digital finance.

Limitations of MSOs

The most prominent limitation of MSOs is their focused suite of offerings centered around payments, accounts and foreign exchange. Any banking needs beyond transactions and currency exchange may still require utilizing a traditional bank.

For example, MSOs do not provide the full range of services that an established corporation may need such as business loans, insurance, trade financing solutions and investment management. Their specialization creates a niche appeal for certain segments, but they cannot be a one-stop solution for every customer.

Limitations of Traditional Banks

While traditional banks offer comprehensive services, high eligibility barriers, minimum balance requirements, paperwork demands and rigid procedures can deter newer foreign SMEs and individuals.

Lengthy wait times, inconsistent customer service in branches, and unclear requirements may frustrate foreign business owners accustomed to more streamlined fintech solutions. The established expertise of traditional banks appeals more to large multi-national corporations rather than small expatriate ventures.

Leading MSOs in Hong Kong

Some top examples of MSOs making an impact in Hong Kong include:

Airwallex – As covered previously, Airwallex is a standout choice for frequent international transactions thanks to its multi-currency accounts, optimized foreign exchange, and seamless cross-border payment solutions.

Currenxie – Currenxie makes setting up expatriate business banking uncomplicated through its digital multi-currency accounts and payment solutions tailored to Hong Kong.

Leading Traditional Banks in Hong Kong

The most prominent traditional banks deeply entrenched in Hong Kong include:

HSBC – As Hong Kong’s largest bank, HSBC provides established businesses with a vast array of financial services through its extensive branch network and international expertise.

Standard Chartered – Standard Chartered is a leading bank in Asia, combining global capabilities with a strong Hong Kong presence spanning retail, corporate and investment banking.

Bank of China – One of China’s ‘Big Four’ state-owned banks, Bank of China has a strong foothold in Hong Kong with a broad range of consumer and corporate banking products.

Citibank – The Hong Kong branch of the prominent international bank Citibank provides corporate banking solutions as well as wealth management services and credit cards.

Advantages of MSOs for Foreign Companies

For expats and foreign companies entering Hong Kong, MSOs can provide more accessible payment solutions and currency exchange compared to the bureaucracy often associated with traditional banks.

MSOs offer:

– Simplified account opening and setup for expats abroad

– Intuitive digital interfaces for managing transactions

– Multi-currency support for simplified foreign exchange

– Payment processing and money transfers tailored to international needs

Advantages of Traditional Banks

At the same time, traditional banks offer advantages through their:

– Extensive experience working with established corporations

– Comprehensive suite of financial products beyond just transactions

– Branch office services and in-person relationship managers

– Specialized solutions for needs like insurance and trade financing

Both MSOs and traditional banks serve important roles, catering to different segments of the market based on their capabilities and limitations.

For expats or foreign SMEs focused on core payment and foreign exchange needs, MSOs like Airwallex and Currenxie provide more accessible solutions.

Traditional banks lend their expertise to large multi-national corporations needing specialized services. As banking continues to evolve in Hong Kong, there are benefits to both the innovative approach of MSOs and the established presence of traditional institutions.

Interested in opening a bank account in Hong Kong but don’t know where to start? Speak with our managers at ATHENASIA for a free consultation, we can provide tailor made solutions for your business and suggest which banking option will work best for your structure.


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