Sam Fok CPA

Sam Fok CPA co-founded Hong Kong Virtual Asset Exchange Limited (HKVAX), a trading platform, as the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) was introducing a virtual asset-related licensing regime and guidelines. He shares how his compliance background, which included being an investigator at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is helping the company get to the next stage of growth


What have been the three biggest lessons in your career so far?

The most important lesson is continuous studying and learning. I graduated in civil engineering then studied accounting and then law. The last two allowed me to work well in the area of compliance. Secondly, be proactive. Don’t be shy to take up more responsibilities at work as you can learn a lot. Lastly, think outside the box. I left a stable job in banking to join a fintech company because I was determined to play a part in changing traditional banking for consumers.

What attracted you to the industry?

One of my friends joined a fintech payment company that specialized in cross-border payments, and I found out that my helper was using its services. She used to queue up at Western Union or MoneyGram outlets to transfer funds back to her family once a month. With the payment app, she can deposit and transfer money any time at a convenient store. This speed and efficiency, and seeing how these technologies are disrupting the market, attracted me to join a fintech.

In what ways has your CPA qualification helped you in your career?

I have a good understanding of different aspects of the company. As a chief operating officer, I oversee compliance, marketing, tax, legal, company secretary, accounting and capital fundraising. A lot of these job responsibilities are closely related to accounting or my CPA knowledge.

HKVAX is currently obtaining SFC licenses to deal in securities and provide automated trading services. What has your role been in the licensing process?

I’m the key person responsible for handling all SFC submissions and enquiries. My compliance background is useful in front of the regulator and in my discussions with them. Previously, the biggest problem in the virtual asset market was the lack of transparency on the full records of asset owners. Know-your-customer onboarding, transaction monitoring, market surveillance and record-keeping, the full anti-money laundering framework – I have extensive experience with these in the bank and can now bring it into the virtual asset space. Since we started the company in 2018, we have been involved in numerous discussions with the SFC on how to regulate the virtual asset market. We are one of four market players that has been accepted by the SFC for license applications. Once we get the license, our investors will be able to use our platform to trade virtual assets and security tokens. Our goal is to build a strong marketplace that investors can trust.

How do you view Hong Kong’s future as a digital asset centre globally?

Even with Mainland China’s recent clampdowns on crypto, I am still cautiously optimistic. As an international financial hub, Hong Kong has a sound financial, legal and tax system, and the professionals to support it. But despite our competitive advantages, the global minimum tax rate of 15 percent endorsed by the G20 and an increasingly globalized world means these advantages will gradually fade. I strongly believe Hong Kong should continue to foster fintech innovation without compromising investor protection. We should consider allowing retail investors to trade virtual assets with proper product and risk disclosures in place, and also expand the product offering (i.e. staking or virtual asset lending/borrowing) in a regulated regime. For Hong Kong to become a crypto hub, innovation and regulation have to come together.

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