FINTECH FRIDAY$ (EP.6-Aug 24): Asian Crypto Markets Meet Canadian Talent with Henri Arslanian, Chairman of FinTech Association of HK

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NCFA Canada | Craig Asano | Aug 24, 2018

FINTECH FRIDAY$ (EP6-Aug 24):  Asian Crypto Markets Meet Canadian Talent

About this episode: On this episode, our host Manseeb Khan sits down with Henri Arslanian, PwC FinTech & Crypto Leader for Asia and Chairman of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong. They talk about future institutions in crypto, Why Hong Kong is a home away from home to him and to other fellows Canadians and his best practices. Enjoy!

Host: Manseeb Khan, NCFA, Fintech Fridays show host

Guest: Henri Arslanian, Chairman, Hong Kong FinTech Association and FinTech & Crypto Leader for Asia, PwC

Bio: Henri Arslanian is the PwC FinTech & Crypto Leader for Asia, the Chairman of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong where he teaches the first FinTech university course in Asia.  With over 400,000 LinkedIn followers, Henri has been awarded many industry and academic awards over the years from being regularly named one of the Most Influential Individuals in FinTech in Asia to being awarded the Governor General of Canada Gold Medal for Academic Excellence.  Henri was also recognized as one of the Global 2017 LinkedIn Top Voices in Economy & Finance and is regularly featured in global media including Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.  Henri is also a TEDx speaker, a published author, and currently sits on several finance, academic, government, civil society, and FinTech related boards and advisory boards globally.  Henri speaks five languages including English, French, Armenian, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

 

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Transcription of Interview

Manseeb Khan: [00:00:00] Hey everybody Manseeb Khan and you are tuning into the NCFA newest podcast series called Fintech Fridays. Today I have an  absolutely incredible guest today. I have Henri Arslanian. He is the fintech and crypto head for Price Waterhouse Cooper for Asia and the chairman of the Fintech Association of Hong Kong. Henri thank you so much for making it like I am beyond beyond grateful.

Henri Arslanian: [00:00:26] Always a pleasure Manseeb. Thanks for having me.

Manseeb Khan: [00:00:28] No for sure so I guess for those audiences I don't know who you are. Could you for a quick minute give us a quick rundown of who you really are?

Henri Arslanian: [00:00:37] Absolutely Manseeb, very happy to do so. So as you mentioned my name is Henri Arslanian and really my passion is my focus and life is the future of the financial services industry. I tell people I'm just very lucky that I get paid by `PWC to be a fintech and crypto leader for Asia. So very active in the fintech and crypto scene as you mentioned Manseeb. I'm the chairman of the fintech association in Hong Kong but also many things there including, I'm a university professor I'm an adjunct associate professor at the University of Hong Kong. Each the first fintech university course in Asia. So very active in the broader scene there in the market by backround I'm actually I'm actually from Montreal, Canada not far from Toronto where you are and really started my career as a lawyer and then moved on to move to Asia and became more spend more time in investment banking before joining of the tech start up and then moving into consulting. So really really really excited about about being on the show in that great look forward to our conversation.

Manseeb Khan: [00:01:35] Yeah no I'm very excited so I guess could you talk about what made you move to Hong Kong right like you said you were based out in Montreal Canada is starting to have a very thriving financial tech and crypto community right and AI community as well what what was the poll or was one of the major polls.

Henri Arslanian: [00:01:55] Absolutely. No absolutely. I mean as I mentioned you know I had a very normal upbringing. I was a typical Armenian Canadian upbringing in Montreal and after I started working as a lawyer and you know when I was young I had to travel a lot. Now I still travel and really I was finishing my internship at my Quebec bar in the New York bar. Had I had a chance I was thinking about going back to Europe. I had the chance of studying in Paris during my university years and I was actually planning on going back to Europe to do some further graduate studies. But one day literally see I was with my dad watching the TV show on Radio Canada the French version of CBC called The Rise of a Chinese dragon. And we talked about all of you put's that is going on in China and Asia and I swear I put my application for for Europe for LSC at a time where I was I was going literally and I went instead to China. I literally googled programs in law and business in China. Bought a book next they called Chinese for Dummies and about a couple of months later I was in Beijing where I started started studying Chinese at Beijing University and it all went on to do a masters in Chinese law at the Tsinghua university and really that was the point of no return if you are for Asia you know after spending some time here I asked her after my graduate studies I'm down to Hong Kong and really Hong Kong is if you want to mix of a city where you have not only finance but also entrepreneurship and the overall energy it was it was a great mix.  And frankly I've been there for 10 years now in Hong Kong and what I love about Asia is literally the fact that things move very fast. But you also have this energy and the type of people that generally end up in Asia especially in a city like Hong Kong tend to have this really alpha, go getter, entrapreneurship a hustler mentality which I really love. And that's definitely something we're seeing today when it comes to fintech and specially crypto in the region.

Manseeb Khan: [00:03:55] So essentially Asia is going to be a crypto powerhouse that many might be overlooking. Right?

Henri Arslanian: [00:04:02] Well you know it's very difficult to judge a powerhouse's but that is definitely a big edge in Asia. I'll get a couple of examples when you look at cities like Hong Kong or China. There are already financial centers. And when it comes to your cities were doing business is very easy. Not only have the existing infrastructure. These cities are voted every year as one of the easiest cities to the business from setting up companies to actually dealing with tax authorites  but also there's a lot of advantages tax wise. You know the you know the personal tax rate in Hong Kong for example is 15 percent, 1 5 which plays a big role when it comes to attract business. So when you look at the broader region I mean when you look at China obviously used to be a big crypto powerhouse until the ban can talk about later if you want. But also if you look at today in markets like Japan or Korea where you still have large volumes of crypto trading taking place on a daily basis. So there's a lot of these ecosystems that are actually quite vibrant when it comes to crypto. For example what's really interesting is a lot of these cities you have a lot of these best practices are being developed where you know the community is coming together and really coming up with frameworks said they want to abide it because they know that regulations can catch up in time for example the fintech Association of Hong Kong which I chair released last December a best practice document for ICO's basically 20 page document that anybody that wants to do an ICO can read ,we will give examples of what some of the best practices are.

Henri Arslanian: [00:05:28] Another example are for crypto exchanges. SIFMA which is if you want the association of the banks and the brokers in the region has a crypto committee. which I also sit on and we published a couple of weeks ago a best practice document for crypto exchanges especially centralised exchanges on really what are some of the measures they need to focus on not only on topics like KYC AML and know your client and anti money laundering but also other topics like custody and how to actually safeguard your assets to prevent events of hacks or cyber attacks. So overall a very exciting place and a very vibrant ecosystem.

Manseeb Khan: [00:06:00] Could you share a little bit more of the global trends that you are seeing in the crypto space? right. Like you mentioned that there is going to be increasing regulatory enforement and how regulation can't really catch up and how and institutions are trying to come to the space.And could you I guess speak on out a little bit more.

Henri Arslanian: [00:06:17] Absolutely. Absolutely Manseeb. I mean when you look we look at the crypto universe at a global level. There's obviously a lot of regional particularities but at the global level there are some big macro trends are we are observing and these are relevant for people around the world including in Canada for example one of them is really the increase in regulatory enforcement case. I really expect over the next coming months to see an increasing number of enforcement cases by the regulators frankly there's so many low hanging fruit. When you look at the broader space for example a lot of the ICOs have large over the last couple of months really. I mean we're launching with complete disregard to the broader securities laws and broader regulatory frameworks. So I expect a lot of enforcement in this case. And already we've seen regulators not only in the U.S. with SEC but also in Canada and other countries around the world start enforcing on certain crypto matters. To be fair to some of the low hanging fruit that it's easy for them to actually go and instead make make some of these cases as examples. But also I think when we look at broader trends for example one of them is the arrival of institutional investors you know about a year or two years ago. Many were wondering Are banks going to get it to the space? Are traditional institutional investors going to start looking into the crypto space and actually that's been very interesting very interesting Manseeb because now we can actually see a lot of the large investors not only the VCs but also the family officers and many of the other large investor groups is term looking at investing or participating in the broader crypto ecosystem. I think we're so far away from seeing let's say a pension fund invest in ICO but I wouldn't be surprised we see more and more of them over the next coming months and invest in crypto funds for example but also then we'll look holistically as well banks. For example if we look at a lot of the financial situations there's been numerous announcements from banks from Goldman Sachs to Nomura to Fidelity over the last couple months announcing their plans in the crypto space and this is very very important because in order for the industry to be more institutionalized and for some of the institutional players to come in which will not only add to the liquidity but also make the industry more professional. You need to of these traditional players to enter the space which is very good to see from from that perspective. However that being said Manseeb there's also a lot of challenges. I think we have to be very cautious of some of the challenges that exist in the broader global crypto ecosystem for example the probably the biggest challenge right now my clients are facing in the crypto space is something very simple. It's opening a bank account. I can guarantee you can go right now to any crypto company around the world from ICO to exchanges to funds that they will probably tell you their biggest challenge is opening a boring bank account in order to be able to pay rent, do payroll and other activities that we take for granted. But that's what I mean. So that's one of the practical challenges we have. there's other practical challenges for example while regulations are slowly shaping up and we're starting to see some some regulatory clarity in certain jurisdictions. There's a lot of the basic fundamentals are not decided yet. For example accounting rules or. Right now it's a big it's a very big difficulty for a company for all its ribs for example to audit crypto companies. Why because a lot of the standards are not finalised yet and the processes and controls that we need to put in place are not there yet. We will get there. But in the interim this is why we're seeing a lot of the industry come together and actually come up with best practices that the like I just mentioned previously to regulate if you want quote unquote the industry.

Manseeb Khan: [00:09:57] Yeah which is incredible like it should be interesting see I guess the bridge being built between just traditional institutionalized money and this whole new brand new crypto world. It should be interesting to see. I guess what the new regulations are and who the new players are going to be.

Henri Arslanian: [00:10:15] Absolutely Manseeb, but you know this is a question that comes up around you know especially when I get keynotes from the world or discuss with clients or industry disciplines. If we look at let's say Bitcoin let's focus on the first main cryptocurrency. I mean it was really the whole idea of blockchain and cryptocurrency like Bitcoin was really to build this trustless environment where you didn't need intermediaries where people could actually transact with each other. There was a consensus mechanism in place and people can actually. You don't need these banks, intermediaries that does not only make the system slower but also frankly definitely more costly. And it's ironic that actually we actually not know what industry probably needs the most is some of these old solutions for example custody. You know one of the main reasons a lot of the institutional investors would tell you they are not investing right now in crypto funds is because custody solutions are not there yet for Crypto. There's number solutions coming up and we'll solve this problem over the coming months. But that's one of the issues for example that we are seeing. And you know it's so great that we can frankly operate in the crypto space. But for the ecosystem to move to the next level to become more mainstream and to become more institutionalized we need some kind of regulatory framework around that is appropriate. We shouldn't overkill but really I think that's appropriate for even simple stuff like to avoid people using crypto currencies for money laundering for example or for terrorist financing which are things that I guess nobody wants from the crypto ecosystem but also more broadly as well.

Manseeb Khan: [00:11:45] Yeah I totally agree I guess to a lot of people in the mainstream community it's the funding that like oh yeah you know like criminals are going to use bitcoin and or Ethereum and all these other alt-coins. I can see why that's a fear and I guess I can see why there's such a fast and big push for regulation. So like OK let's figure out what we can and can't do as fast as possible. so we can kind of just thrive in this amazing market.

Henri Arslanian: [00:12:15] Absolutely Manseeb. But you know the thing with be careful. I think you think a crypto currencies I mean criminals are were using crypto currency as they are and you will always be using crypto currencies for any bad things they want to do the same way they actually cash is probably still the best the best tool that is used today for anybody who wants to launder money or buy drugs or whatever. I think that's that's one of the areas in there. But what's really really interesting is that the industry kind of became more mature in dealing with these issues. I'll give you a very simple example Manseeb ICO initial coin offers. If you look at ICO's that took place more than a year ago the concept of doing KYC, know your client which is asking for a basic I.D. identification on whoever is actually giving you money or buying your tokens was really unheard of and really since I would say the last 12 months pretty much any semi decent I'm sure right now is doing a KYC and doing a email checks. And actually the tools are able to use to do KYC and moderate checks are probably better than what a lot of the banks are using because these new these new startups are able to use the latest Regtech, regulatory tech solutions the market in many ways that are in many ways more efficient better than what a lot of legacy tools a lot of banks are using. So they were definitely the industry mature topics like you mentioned which are very very important to tackle as an ecosystem.

Manseeb Khan: [00:13:38] So you did mention a couple of times best practices that you've come up with on both the boards that you're chairman of. Could you talk about your best practices and what you look into with all these new ICOs all these new crypto companies popping up. I guess what would be your best practices to keep in mind for these companies.

Henri Arslanian: [00:13:59] It's very good question Manseeb. I think definitely we need best practices because regulations cannot catch up time you know frankly regulators have done a great job and I think this is what the regulators don't get the respect and the credit they deserve frankly for how on top of the crypto ecosystem they are. I would say personally that when I have the average regulator I speak with is way more way more knowledgeable crypto that the average banker and I think this is something that a lot of people don't don't realize when it comes to the broader ecosystem. That being said coming out regulations it takes very time consuming. There's a lot of stakeholders involved. This is why a lot of best practices and really best practices depends of which vertical you're talking about. For example you mentioned ICOs in ICOs right now. You need to do KYC and for any any token sale you're doing. I think that's become quite standard right now. But there are other items for example governance right. We're seeing increasingly in number of of the ICO's actually put in place very proper governance frameworks not only for example how the board is manage how the are made but also at the very practical levels for example what kind of reporting will be given to token holders what kind of transparency will be given how trends or how much disclosures will take place on the use of proceeds. And we're seeing actually, one part of my job is I work with companies and I see also based on drafting these governments governance frameworks in order to actually make them soft know more lies. But there also a lot of other kinds of other matters we're seeing the best practices in other verticals crypto funds for example.

Henri Arslanian: [00:15:29] You know I spent many years in my banking career in the hedge fund world and it's really incredible how much there's not a focus yet on independent directors or on transparency when it comes to the board of the crypto for a lot of people are still managing crypto funds. The same people are managing the portfolio also sit on the board of the fund really so there's no checks and balances from that perspective mean these are things we expect to see over the coming months. But also there are best practices when it comes to exchanges for example how the kids is private keys are stored or you know how there's a how how cold storage is being done how hot storage has been taking place. So there's a lot of actually best practices that we are seeing across different verticals and I have to say it's very good to see some of the service providers that are entering the space as well. Often people are people you see when I tell people that I run a crypto team in Asia people are actually quite surprised. I mean only in Hong Kong. How about we have about 30 people in our crypto team that are focused solely on helping the companies literally ICOs but also crypto funds exchanges but helping banks enter the crypto space as well. And we're seeing a lot of the best practices that we use in the normal world the traditional world and now we're bringing those best practices over to the crypto space which I think is great for the long term sustainability of the ecosystem.

Manseeb Khan: [00:16:40] Yeah absolute agree with you . I think those are amazing best practices to have in mind. And it depends on what vertical. I guess companies and people decide to take too I guess closes off being fellow Canadians. What would be your advice to Canadian Crypto companies to help skyrocket our progress in this space.

Henri Arslanian: [00:17:09] Oh I think anybody that knows a bit of the crypto space you know the first thing I thought everybody is whoever tells you there are crypto experts you've got to run away and you got to run it right away very fast. So I'm never in a position to give advice. All I can do however is as a fellow Canadian and somebody that actually really cares about the ecosystem Canada at the same very proud you know over the last you know a couple of months I met a lot of Canadians are in the crypto space and actually Canada's is doing very amazing stuff like for example some of the innovation we're seeing in the startup scene in Toronto where you're based or even some of the innovations we're seeing the AI space in Montreal for example had pressed not to say the branding and image that Canada has is actually excellent when it comes to the brother in entrepreneurship innovation at the global level. The one thing I have to say that with the Canadian company generally I found is that we don't take big enough and this is one big if there's one complete I would say you know self-criticism of us Canadians is actually we don't think big enough and we actually often just focus on the Canadian market or we compare ourselves to the US market.

[00:18:12] But really we have we have to have a bigger vision of this and I should say this for many years I used to sit on the board of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong And this was actually something we see a lot of Canadian companies would come over. Is this is the first time they would think about Asia for example and because the US market is so big it's next door, it's convenient , same time zone. I think that there's one piece of advice is really think big and really look at think more internationally than just the Canadian market. And we really are better than we think. You know from our universities that we have in Canada the reputation we have our ethics our culture. And really I think the way we operate not only in business circles but also in other social circles is really remarkable and we don't give them enough credit to us as Canadians which is something I think we should do more of.

Manseeb Khan: [00:18:59] But at the same time we have amazing creative leaders like yourself out there kind of showing like hey guys we can go global we can do amazing things. Look see what I'm doing. Right. So that having people like you in the space I think that helps tremendously to inspire Canadians to think a little bit more globally and to have that little bit more quote unquote world dominating mindset.

Henri Arslanian: [00:19:24] Yeah we have friends all around the world you know I remember for many years my first couple of years of when I was in Asia I actually had to fly back for a weekend and the actual teacher in Quebec in that University of Sherbrooke courses on how to do business in China and Asia for example. And there's a lot of goodwill. I mean it happens to me a lot of these are Crypto meetings or when I'm clients or in the broader fintech space that I mean other folks around the world and it just turns out there are Canadian as well. And what I find it's actually we have this kind of network around the world of Canadians are generally very eager to help. Now I'll give you a very simple example. Manseeb Hong Kong I mean you know I'm always coming back to Hong Kong because I think it's a great example but only in Hong Kong. There is more than three hundred thousand Canadian passport holders.

Henri Arslanian: [00:20:10] Let me repeat that 300000 Canadian passport holders. Hong Kong is probably one of the biggest Kinney's cities we have actually in the world. And this is great Alumi network if you want is something like I think 50 or 60 Canadian University alumni like networks all in Hong Kong.

Henri Arslanian: [00:20:26] You also there's this network that we have around the world that people don't talk a lot of Canadian companies I think don't happen. The other thing is by the way are great forward service and really had the privilege of the last couple of years to go with a lot of our embassies and consulates and trade trade missions around the world. And we really have exceptional people in these roles are their to help Canadian companies so really I think we can. That's what I'm saying. There's a lot we can do and we have to be a bit more self-confident to achieve that.

Manseeb Khan: [00:20:53] No I absolutely agree. I didn't and I don't know. There's so many Canadians in Hong Kong that's that's incredible news. Here we go.

Henri Arslanian: [00:21:00] You can even find poutine now in Hong Kong. We're in Shanghai for example.

Manseeb Khan: [00:21:04] OK.I think we're probably going to bump those numbers up, now that you said that! Oh goodness me , there are going to be so many Canadians flooding to Hong Kong just for the poutine.

Henri Arslanian: [00:21:16] I mean there's know often tell people you know I play hockey on Saturday morning still in Hong Kong. We often it's incredible the whole network of people waking up at 7:00 in the morning on Sunday mornings just to watch the Habs or the Leafs or whoever any the Jets are playing on the evening before in Canada. So yeah there's definitely a big network if you want. I always thought the Canadian never the biggest private club in the world. So it's all it's all there.

Manseeb Khan: [00:21:42] I love that. I love the biggest private club in the world. That's amazing. Henri thank you so much for sitting down with me today. This has been amazing. I think you've changed a lot of Canadians minds about Hong Kong and you're going to have a lot more Canadian neighbors for sure.

Henri Arslanian: [00:21:57] Looking forward Manseeb, always a pleasure and thanks for having me on again thank you for focusing on the broader fintech and crypto scene. I think is great to create more awareness on these topics and the exciting space that we have for your audience and the people and not only Canada but actually globally as well. So thank you very much for having me. And I look forward to staying in touch.

 

End of Podcast

 

Interested in getting involved as a partner or participant? info@ncfacanada.org

 


The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with fintech, alternative finance, blockchain, cryptocurrency, crowdfunding and online investing stakeholders globally. NCFA Canada provides education, research, industry stewardship, services, and networking opportunities to thousands of members and subscribers and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding and fintech industry. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: ncfacanada.org

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Bloomberg | By Natalie Wong and Gerrit De Vynck | June 20, 2018 A cryptocurrency baron has bought the largest and one of the most expensive condos in Canada, paying for it partly with digital money. Anthony Di Iorio purchased the three-story penthouse for C$28 million ($21 million) at the St. Regis Residences Toronto, the former Trump International Hotel & Tower in the downtown business district. The unit totals 16,178 square feet (1,502 square meters) and includes a wrap-around patio overlooking the city’s skyline at the corner of Bay and Adelaide Streets. Di Iorio didn’t take out a mortgage for the property because he doesn’t “like being in debt.” Instead, he cashed out some of his cryptocurrency and made a wire transfer to pay the price. “I don’t remember exactly which ones I cashed in but this is my safety net, real estate right?” he said in an interview with Bloomberg at his new condo. He now owns two condos units in Toronto for a total investment of about C$34 million, he said. “I decided to take a bunch out and put it in real estate.” The hotel is owned by InnVest Hotels LP and operated by Marriott International Inc. as ...
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Crypto Pioneer Buys Penthouse in Former Toronto Trump Tower
Computer Weekly | Karl Flinders | Sep 13, 2018 A Tech Nation programme to support the UK's financial technology startups demonstrates the increasingly diverse range of business-to-business products and services available through the country's fintech community Financial technology (fintech) is providing a market where IT professionals in the finance sector and beyond can find answers to their business challenges through specialist tech startups. UK-based CIOs have the benefit of having these fintech startups on their doorstep. UK government-backed startup network Tech Nation has selected 20 such fintech startups to take part in a five-month programme that aims to scale up early-stage companies. The programme’s business-to-business (B2B) focus demonstrates that beyond the high-profile digital challenger banks and payments companies targeting consumers with funky apps, there is a deep source of niche financial services IT innovation in the UK. Fintech solutions begin life as an idea about how to use technology to solve a particular financial services problem. The speed of software development today means products can quickly follow. See:  UK Government Ups Crowdfunding without Prospectus to €8 Million – Matching Germany But the challenges really begin when it comes to turning a great idea into a commercial success. This is where the likes ...
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Tech Nation startup programme demonstrates richness of UK fintech
Forbes | Enrique Dans | Sep 5, 2018 The growing popularity of fintech and the emergence of competitors in different phases of the cycle, from new banks such as Germany’s N26 to partial service providers such as Revolut and others, or niche competitors such as Shine, highlights not just the inability of traditional banking to compete with them, but even to understand the most basic implications of the phenomenon. The banks’ problem is not competing with these types of companies, or at least, not for now. We talking here about vastly different magnitudes, of scale: a service with strong growth like Revolut, for example, expects to reach three million customers by next month, which is nothing to Santander’s more than 113 million customers in more than ten countries worldwide. The idea that fintech companies represent some kind of threat seems absurd, seen in the context of size. Obviously, this does not mean that the traditional banks should ignore the phenomenon — and they aren’t. Ignoring change and hoping that size will continue to matter is risky. The big banks are aware that the growth of the fintech phenomenon is mainly due to their own shortcomings, to the strong tendency towards industry isomorphism, ...
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What Can Traditional Banks Learn From Fintech?

 

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